Disney’s Encanto is a huge hit – and that’s bad news for Pixar

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From the outside it all looks a bit vendetta-like – not least because Turning Red is being actively kept out of cinemas, rather than merely offered at home as an alternative. On social media, some industry-watchers darkly noted the change of tune came shortly after Pixar’s new chief creative officer, Inside Out director Pete Docter, announced a strict (ish) no-franchise policy, following a decade in which the studio’s sequels outnumbered their original films by almost two to one. It seems telling that Lightyear, a sort-of prequel to the Toy Story films and the studio’s least original new film since the Docter takeover, still seems to be destined for cinemas this June.

So what’s afoot? The juiciest conspiracy theory holds that it’s out-and-out sabotage: a long-awaited humbling of those cocky Berkeley-based CG parvenus by vengeful Disney loyalists. But that makes little sense. Unlike, say, Blue Sky, the Fox animation house which was disbanded following Disney’s 2019 acquisition of that studio, Pixar has a name which promises something very specific to ordinary cinema-goers: innovative storytelling, artistic ingenuity, and perhaps most of all, guaranteed emotional devastation for any adults in the audience. Whether Disney Animation sees them as peers or rivals, there’s no sense one studio is treading on the other’s toes.

Well, could it be to do with Docter’s originality edict, and its damming-up effect on the corporation’s ancillary revenue streams? It’s certainly true that Pixar’s recent output hasn’t exactly lent itself to merchandise: Toy Story 4’s new character, Forky, was plastic cutlery and Play-Doh, while Soul was about a middle-aged jazz pianist having an existential crisis. Watch those action figures fly off the shelves! But Luca was plenty cute enough for t-shirts and cuddly toys, and Turning Red looks like a marketer’s dream: the lead character transforms into a giant fluffy red panda, for goodness sake. 

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