‘Coco’ helped Pixar avoid streak of no acclaimed original movies

Pixar raised the bar so high a decade ago with a spectacular three-year streak of original films that the studio is forever measured against its own success.

Yet even allowing that the Oscar-plated run of “Ratatouille,” “WALL*E” and “Up” found rarefied air from 2007 to 2009, the viewer expectation persisted that the great minds of Pixar would routinely keep offering non-sequel excellence. And thanks to 2012’s “Brave” and 2015’s “Inside Out,” that reputation was fairly supported.

But given the slate of films since then, as well as going forward, Pixar especially needed the new “Coco” to succeed.

“Coco” opened to $71.2 million domestically over the five-day holiday frame; has grossed $153 million worldwide; and is the biggest film in Mexican box office history. But its critical reception is crucial to Pixar’s image, too.

Because if “Coco” hadn’t landed well with reviewers and fans, that misstep would have meant that Pixar would go five years — at the least — without an acclaimed original film.

That is mostly a reflection, of course, of Pixar’s hard turn toward sequels in recent years. The studio followed the critically underwhelming “The Good Dinosaur” two years ago this month with the massive hit sequel “Finding Dory” (Pixar’s highest-grossing domestic release ever before adjusting for inflation; and second-highest after adjustment) and the box-office underperformer “Cars 3” (Pixar’s lowest-grossing domestic release ever other than “The Good Dinosaur”).

Then look forward to what’s next on Pixar’s slate: 2018’s “The Incredibles 2″ and 2019’s “Toy Story 4.” Both films are highly anticipated, yet they are both sequels.

The prospect of Pixar going from much of 2015 to well into 2020 without an original winner would have somewhat altered the studio’s image.

Fortunately, “Coco” has received mostly glowing reviews (96 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) and audience reception (“A-plus” on CinemaScore).

Let’s hope Pixar continues to make space for at least several original winners each decade. The biggest sequels pay so many bills — including the price of continuing to innovate so brilliantly — but the new franchises help maintain the image that Pixar’s freshest thinkers are still reaching toward some creative infinity. And beyond.

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