movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Thu Oct 08 2015, 10:35pm | 19 comments
Sequels do not automatically equal creative bankruptcy.
I wonder if it’s just the way the production schedule shakes out. They already released Inside Out this year, so with The Good Dinosaur, that makes two originals for 2015. 2017 will see one sequel and one original. Dory and Incredibles 2 are both first sequels to films that were released long ago, so perhaps there are still good stories to be mined there without necessarily rehashing old themes. Toy Story 4 does seem like it’s pushing it, but who knows? All the installments so far have been great despite skepticism about their sequel status, finding new ways to explore and expand their premise.
I say wait and see. :-)
I actually preferred the Toy Story sequels to the original film. But I’m not going near Cars 3 unless it’s a dystopian horror movie.
George Miller should direct.
Well, that was just implied. But I’d accept Edgar Wright.
The other thing I don’t understand about preemptive sequel hate is that it doesn’t seem to extend to television. Every new season (heck, every new episode) of a narrative TV show is basically a sequel — a continuation of a story with the same central characters and the same general premise. But I’ve never seen anyone complaining that their favorite show should stop, because they just saw those exact same characters doing similar things last week.
TV and film are completely different ways of telling stories. (For one, TV can explore character in ways that film cannot.) And people *do* complain about TV shows when they start to get repetitive!
True, but people complain when a show gets repetitive in specific aspects: recycled storylines, stalled or regressed character development, etc. They don’t complain, sight unseen, that a show is creatively bankrupt just because it’s coming out with a new season!
I’m sure we agree (don’t we?) that sequels CAN be amazing in their own right; you’ve glowingly reviewed many yourself. So I’m puzzled that you’d dismiss Pixar’s creative mojo just because their slate for the near future includes a lot of sequels, without knowing anything more about them.
Of course sequels can be amazing. But I’d still prefer new stories, not new installments in old ones.
A new season of TV show is not the same thing as a sequel movie.
Apart from duration, what’s the difference conceptually?
It’s just not an apples to apples comparison. Storytelling in television and film differ in focus, in intent, in methodology. Television slowly builds big things from small pieces, whereas movies pack big things into small packages. And audiences we view them very differently. Consider what one means when they say that a television show “feels like a movie”, versus when a movie “feels like a TV episode”. One is a tremendous compliment, while the other is considered at best damning with faint praise. And let’s not pretend that the duration issue isn’t huge. A single television series means, at minimum, 6 hours of screen time, and as much as 18 hours.
While I agree that calling it creative bankruptcy is a bit dramatic (OTOH, we don’t love MaryAnn for the way she minces words), I do think, to quote myself from Facebook, that good or bad a these movies may end up being, Pixar’s Golden Age is well and truly over. They may well be entering a Silver Age, where they show everyone else just how sequels are done. Whereas Cars, A Bug’s Life, and Brave – widely considered the bottom quartile of Pixar’s original films – all have them makings of minor classics*, they’re only 2 for 4 so far on sequels.**
The presence of TS4 and Cars 3 are what may really be setting people off. Another Toy Story just smacks of returning to the well once too often, especially considering the way TS3 handled the “end of one childhood marks the beginning of another” aspect. The whole Cars may be a labor of love for John Lasseter, he’s not really selling it as an artistic vision. And the series’ somewhat inexplicable commercial success makes hard not to see a third sequel’s existence as a cynical move.
And there’s to it than that. The Incredibles 2 will mark Pixar’s 21st film in 25 years. If we divide that roughly in half, the first 10 (Toy Story through Up, 1995 to 2009) have one sequel among them. The second 11 (TS3 though I2, 2010 to 2019) have seven sequels. That’s a major shift in they’re creative process.
As for “wait and see”, dude, it’s Pixar. Of course I’ll see them. They most of them will probably be pretty good to great. But I can’t help but feel disappointed.
*Yes, even Cars ins’t a bad movie. I actually agree with the back handed compliment that it’s one of the best movies Dreamworks ever made.
** <Cars 2 is proof that even Pixar is capaple of a horrendous turd of a film. That movie fails on every level. It even manages to be racist and sexist. MU is the classic example of both the Unnecessary Sequel and the Unnecessary Prequel. And while TS2 and TS3 are well made, even some of Pixar’s best, a sober analysis pegs them as slaves to their formula.
All I can say here is that I’m really glad there is no Ratatouille Deux.
Of course, I probably shouldn’t post this…courting disaster and all that.
I’m not sure there’s any inherent reason that repetition should work better on television than it does in film. It’s just that, historically speaking, it usually has. TV shows have gotten a lot of value out of repeating the same character traits and storylines: Lucy tries to perform at the club, Sam and Diane argue about their relationship, Dr. House abuses his patients until it saves their lives. Movie sequels, on the other hand, are mostly terrible, especially when they try to repeat the previous film.
I think there are some general rules of thumb that explain the pattern. Movie sequels tend to have a lot of studio interference, with lots of people giving notes on how to replicate the success of the first film. And the short length of a TV episode lends itself well to variations on a theme, in a way that the structure of a movie may not. Also: Television shows sometimes use the repetitive structure to build incremental changes in character. For example, every time Walter White makes a drug deal that goes wrong, he becomes a little more merciless and corrupt.
But none of that means that a movie sequel can’t work, or that TV shows never get too repetitive. It’s just that, statistically speaking, movie sequels are a lousy bet.
I think the pattern may be changing, though. Pixar has produced a couple of terrific sequels, and TV shows are getting less predictable. (Earl Pomerantz has some interesting thoughts about that here: http://earlpomerantz.blogspot.com/2015/10/rebuttal-to-rant-again.html?m=1.) We’re all hoping—I’m pretty sure—that these upcoming movies will beat the odds. We’re just not holding our breath.
TV is far more about character than film is. Even a character-based film still cannot hope to develop characters in the same way that long-form dramatic television does.
I adore *Ratatouille*… and I don’t want to see a sequel either. The problem with so many sequels is that part of what makes a great film so great is that it feel complete and finished. There is no more story to be told. But that won’t stop Hollywood.
4 freaking years before we get Incredibles 2?! Damn, I thought it would be sooner than that.
Curious about Coco. The logo reminds me of the day of the dead Mexican holiday type stuff.
I’ve never seen a cars movie, and never will.
Toy Story 4 existing basically nulls the wonderful ending of the trilogy. SOOO unnecessary.
But my question was more about what the difference is between a studio greenlighting a sequel to a popular film, and a studio greenlighting a new season for a popular TV show. The creative and commercial motives are the same: develop the characters, expand the story, give fans more of what they want (with variations), make more money. So why is the decision to make a film sequel per se a sign of lessened creativity, while the decision to renew a TV show isn’t necessarily?
TV/film comparisons aside, my main objection is to dismissing sequels as creatively bankrupt cash grabs, sight unseen. Anyone who refused to see Mad Max: Fury Road on that basis missed out on one of the most electrifyingly creative films of the year.
I think super-hero movies have rewritten the rules a bit. The second film in the series tends to be the best.
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