After earning an impressive $66. 7 million, "Brave" just became Pixar's 13th straight film to open No. 1 at the box office. But lucky No. 13 – which also offers the studio's first foray into the world of princess protagonists – is the second Pixar movie in a row (after last year's "Cars 2") to make critics wonder if the studio is becoming too Disneyfied.
There's nothing wrong with "Brave." It's charming, funny and features breathtaking animation (we'll be talking about Merida's glorious red curls for years) – not to mention a proto-feminist princess who'd rather sling arrows than find Prince Charming. Compared to 99.9 percent of animated family movies, it's an amazing film, but when compared to Pixar's own slate of Academy Award-winning masterpieces like the flagship "Toy Story" trilogy, "Wall-E," "Up" and "The Incredibles," something is missing.
Wall Street Journal critic Joel Morgenstern summed up our thoughts in his review: "This is less a film in the lustrous Pixar tradition than a Disney fairy tale told with Pixar's virtuosity. As such, it's enjoyable, consistently beautiful, fairly conventional, occasionally surprising and ultimately disappointing."
The telling word here is "conventional," when what we expect from Pixar is exceptional, original, never-seen-before material, not just in the visuals but also in the story. Maybe it's unfair, and probably we'd all be heaping unmitigated raise for "Brave" had it been released by Fox or Sony, but what sets Pixar apart from other studios, even its corporate parent Disney, is the ability to marry gorgeous animation (which "Brave" does contain) with sophisticated story lines written more for adults than the easy-to-entertain children in the audience.
As Peter Ranier suggested in the Christian Science Monitor, "At this point in Pixar's history, the studio contends with nearly impossible expectations itself. This is what happens when you turn out some bona fide masterworks. 'Brave' isn't that; it's simply a bona fide eyeful."
So does "Brave" (and "Cars 2") signal a new kind of Pixar – the fusion of the studio's incredible visuals with Disney's broader, more kid-friendly dialogue and plotlines that might not appeal as much to serious cineastes? That's what die-hard Pixar fans want to know. Should we expect the geniuses in Emeryville to continue to please family filmgoers but not necessarily the child-free film lovers who've championed the studio for the past 13 years?
We're here to say: everybody keep calm and let Pixar carry on. There's much to celebrate in "Brave," and while it might be the second-lowest-scoring Pixar movie according to Metacritic, it's definitely not the end of Pixar as we know it. When Pixar releases something like "Space Chimps," then we can all herald the animation apocalypse.
With the "Monsters, Inc." prequel "Monster's University" (a look at Sulley and Wazowksi's college years) set to hit theaters next summer, audiences will have to wait until Pixar's next original productions to prove that they're not going to forsake their commitment to originality and grown-up appeal.
There's not much information available about "The Good Dinosaur" (already scheduled for a May 2014 release) but studio chief John Lasseter has announced that the directors are Bob Peterson ("Up") and Peter Sohn ("Partly Cloudy" short) and that it's set in a universe where dinosaurs never became extinct and co-exist with humans. And Pete Docter is already prepping his untitled 2015 Pixar film, which takes place in a little girl's mind with her emotions as the characters.
So to those who are worried about the future of Pixar: relax. These two upcoming projects already sound like the kind of ambitious plotlines we've come to love. Let's keep our expectations high. Cue the Randy Newman song.