Sequels are seldom a good sign in the movie business; they generally indicates a collapse in creativity and likely decline at the box office. Even the best can fall into that trap -- Godfather III, anyone? So it's a worrying sign that the amazingly successful Pixar studios suddenly has a bunch of sequels slated for release.
Pixar has already said this summer's release of Cars 2 will be followed next year with Monsters University, a prequel to Monsters Inc. Things look up in 2013 with Brave -- the studio's first non-brand-extension movie since 2009. And Pixar has indicated that Bug's Life 2 will come after that. [Thanks to a comment below I rechecked and found this was a fan rumor.]
Previously, Pixar had only made two sequels -- both for Toy Story, and neither a case of cashing in on a title. Toy Story 2 didn't come out until four years after the original and Toy Story 3 wasn't released until 11 years after that sequel. Both the timing and quality of the movies support Pixar's repeated assertion that it made them because of the story and not the brand. Both won the best animated picture Oscar and many people were surprised that Toy Story 3 didn't win the best-picture award as well. [Toy Story 2 won the best song Oscar, the best animated category hadn't been created at the time.] Toy Story 3 won the best animated picture Oscar and many people were surprised it didn't win the best-picture award as well.
Sequelizing the flops
Another indicator of problems for Pixar is which movies are being sequel-ized. While Monsters Inc. was critically acclaimed, Cars and Bug's Life are easily the studio's two least distinguished movies. Bug's Life was only one of two animated movies about heroic ants released in 1998. While Monsters Inc. was critically acclaimed, Cars is easily the studio's least distinguished movie. It is the studio's only critical flop. It was made to fulfill Pixar's distribution contract with Disney (DIS) at a time when it looked as though the two companies were going to part ways -- and it shows.
There have been very few good sequels to great movies. Good sequels to mediocre movies? Now that's an incredibly short list.
It's not hyperbole to say Pixar has been the most consistently successful US movie studio in the last 15 years. The 11 movies Pixar has released since 1995 have averaged $250 million in earnings, just in the theaters. Add in DVD and merchandise and that figure easily doubles. It is unnerving to think what Disney's earnings would have been like had the two companies not merged five years ago.
Pixar's success has been based on its devotion to originality. A movie about a rat cooking food for people? Or one about the last remaining functioning robot trying to clean up a totally polluted earth? No other studio could have turned those ideas into movies that parents would take their kids to see. Repeatedly.
It is said that certain stars can open a movie -- bring in viewers simply because he or she is in it. Pixar is the only studio whose name can open a movie. But it's current product pipeline doesn't make it look like this can continue to infinity and beyond.