Does “Toy Story 3” success guarantee we’ll see a fourth film?

By Sean O’Connell As expected, “Toy Story 3” retained the top spot at the box office in its second weekend, earning an impressive $59 million to push its overall domestic cume to an estimated $226.5 million. It edged out Adam Sandler’s ensemble comedy “Grown Ups” ($41 million) and crushed the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz combo comedy “Knight & Day” ($27 million since its Wednesday opening).

After two weeks, “Toy Story 3” is the seventh-highest-grossing Pixar film, but it soon will soar past “Cars” ($244M) and the second “Toy Story” film ($245M). It’s obviously setting its sights on “Finding Nemo,” which — at $339.7 million — holds the crown as Pixar’s top earner.

Can “Toy Story 3” top it? Absolutely. The bump in 3-D ticket prices helps. So does positive word of mouth on the sequel, and a veritable lack of family-friendly competition at the box office until Fox’s “Despicable Me” opens in July.

But does the critical and commercial success of “Toy Story 3” ensure that Pixar will go back to the well for a fourth installment?

The short answer? No. The long answer? It’s unlikely, but certainly possible.

It’s understandable why you’d assume Pixar would crank out another “Toy Story” to meet the obvious need of the general public. Audiences have turned out in droves for another Woody and Buzz adventure, and this film ends with both a satisfying conclusion and a potential story launch with new characters. Plus, studios often belly back up to the family-animation table when crumbs (cash) remains on the table. For the most recent example, see the fourth “Shrek” film. Actually, don’t.

But Pixar typically doesn’t “crank out” films to meet a stated need. If anything, the studio seems like it would pour its profits from the “Toy Story” franchise to develop new, different characters and franchises.

Except a quick peek at Pixar’s slate reveals a handful of sequels. “Cars 2” is on the production schedule for 2011. A second “Monsters Inc.” has been announced. The only original film Pixar reportedly has in development is Brenda Chapman’s “Brave,” about a feminine, Scottish archer voiced by Reese Witherspoon.

I want to believe Pixar will remain above the cash-grabbing sequel game. And yet, when the studio has caved in and created sequels to their most popular films (the “Toy Story” comedies), they’ve been excellent. So is sequel such a bad word in Emmeryville? “Cars 2” will go a long way to convincing us that Pixar treats each of its sequels as they would an original story. Right now, my faith is in the animation studio. They have earned it. But sooner or later, they’re going to have to start behaving like the rest of their mediocre competition.


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