Last year's Cars 2 received some of the most lukewarm reviews ever experienced at Pixar headquarters and completely failed to pick up an Oscar nod in the best animated film category, a sector the Emeryville-based company – which has won a remarkable 26 Academy awards – ruled for almost half a decade. Much of the criticism focused on the decision by Disney/Pixar head honcho John Lasseter to shoot a sequel to Cars, which was itself up to that point the animation house's least-praised film. Cynics suggested that the lucrative merchandising opportunities surrounding a story about a cavalcade of brightly coloured talking motorised vehicles might have influenced the move just a little bit.
On Tuesday at CinemaCon, the annual convention for cinemagoers, film fans and critics held in Las Vegas, Pixar unveiled an upcoming slate that might have been custom-designed to convince naysayers they remain the firm that delivered daring, critically-acclaimed blockbusters about curmudgeonly octogenarians and the after-effects of environmental destruction.
As well as the previously announced Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind, now due to arrive in June 2015, the company revealed it is working on a film about the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday. Toy Story 3's Lee Unkrich, a central creative figure at Pixar after also co-directing Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo, will take the reins. "So excited to finally reveal my next movie at Pixar: a story set in the world of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos," he tweeted.
At first glance, the new film appears more like the kind of gothic-tinged animated film that Tim Burton or Coraline's Henry Selick might have had a hand in. Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico, Brazil and Spain, as well as many Asian and African countries, around the same time Anglo-Saxon cultures enjoy Halloween. Families and friends gather to pray for and remember those who have died, and the festival features iconography linked to skulls, skeletons and other bits of dead people.
Venturing into the world of the non-living certainly represents a new direction for Pixar in terms of adventurous subject matter, but the company is also preparing more orthodox concoctions. Bob Peterson's The Good Dinosaur, which is expected to be ready for May 2014, will enter a world ruled by (no doubt talking) T-rex and pterodactyls, and the company is currently completing a sequel to Monsters Inc, Monsters University, for next year. Its latest film, the Scots-themed fairytale Brave, has been attracting strong early buzz.
Meanwhile, parent company Disney revealed on Tuesday that it has greenlit a sequel to this year's The Muppets, with director James Bobin back in the driving seat. Star Jason Segel, who co-wrote the first film, has said he will not be returning. Instead, the sequel will be penned by The Muppets' co-writer Nicholas Stoller and Bobin. Stoller said last week that the new film would most likely include some sort of role for the recently-introduced Muppet Walter, crooner (alongside Segel) of the Oscar-winning song Man or Muppet from the first film.
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