Saturday, June 22, 2024

Mad Max & Pixar: Why Summer 2024 Feels Like 2015 All Over Again

Everything old in movies is inevitably new again, so it’s no wonder that summer 2024 almost feels like summer 2015, or at least it hopefully will be. Back in the summer of 2015, a movie with the “Mad Max” name that really starred a female warrior named Furiosa opened in mid-May before a very emotional Pixar movie called “Inside Out” opened in mid-June. By the end of that summer, both “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out” were the most acclaimed movies of the year – and nine years later, we all hope we can say the same about “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “Inside Out 2” at the end of summer 2024.

There are already rumblings that “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” will live up to its end of the bargain, but there will be a much better idea after its official world premiere at Cannes on May 15th. After that, it will be “Inside Out 2’s” turn to match it, whether it has a surprise Cannes premiere of its own or just waits around until its American release on June 14th. Either way, everyone who loved “Inside Out” will keep hoping this new chapter doesn’t tarnish its beloved summer 2015 predecessor, just as those who still haven’t seen “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” yet hope for.

Of course, there is virtually nothing else that connects the deranged, R-rated, live-action “Mad Max” saga and the much more kid-friendly, much more sentimental “Inside Out” franchise. Nonetheless, when “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out” both came out nine years ago, they each had large shadows to live up to. “Mad Max: Fury Road” had to live up to George Miller’s original trilogy from 30+ years ago and prove it didn’t need Mel Gibson to start over, while “Inside Out” had to live up to Pixar’s past classics and prove it could still make something on a “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” level.

Yet, for all the anticipation, worry, and tentative hope for these films, no one really had any idea what they were in for nine years ago. No one could have imagined ahead of time that “Mad Max: Fury Road” would not only take a giant leap forward without Gibson, it would birth another iconic Wasteland hero in Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, become embraced by both feminists and action junkies alike, and keep the ride going until it won the most Oscars of 2015. Likewise, few could have imagined how “Inside Out” would stake its claim in the Pixar pantheon to the point where viewers are still crying about an imaginary friend named Bing Bong.

Although the rest of summer 2015 had the likes of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic World,” “Minions,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Ant-Man,” the two movies held up on a far higher pedestal by both critics and audiences alike were “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out.” In fact, they may still be held up as the gold standard of all 2015, even against Oscar winners like “Spotlight,” “The Revenant,” “The Big Short” and “Room.”

That kind of standard would put more pressure on any sequel or follow-up movie to match it or at least not become an ugly asterisk. Yet nine years later, both “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “Inside Out 2” are taking that challenge on within a month of each other in hopes of reaching pedestals of their own.

Like with “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out,” there are no real comparisons between “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “Inside Out 2” in their approaches. For one thing, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” isn’t a sequel but a prequel showing Furiosa’s origins long before Max showed up. And like how “Mad Max: Fury Road” shifted from Gibson to Tom Hardy playing a younger version of the title character, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” is shifting from Theron to Anya Taylor-Joy playing Furiosa’s younger self.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Inside Out 2” is a direct sequel taking place years after the original instead of years before. It has its lead animated characters back, although supporting voice actors Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling were recast due to pay disputes. Regardless, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear are all back inside an older Riley, although new emotions of Anxiety, Envy, Ennui, and Embarrassment are making everything much more complicated.

Inside Out 2” does have a new creative team in charge, as new director Kelsey Mann steps in for original co-writer/directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen. In contrast, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” couldn’t go on without Miller back as director and co-writer. But as with all sequels and new chapters, one must ask if it’s better to have the same old team back and hope lightning strikes again or if it’s better for new voices to carry the torch in entirely new directions.

Given what Miller has done over 40+ years with the “Mad Max” and “Furiosa” saga, there is undoubtedly a lot more trust in him for the moment. There used to be that kind of unbreakable trust in Pixar, yet its track record has been much shakier in the years before “Inside Out 2” than it was in the years before “Inside Out.” Between that and general mistrust about the entire Disney empire lately, there is a lot more Fear-like fear that “Inside Out 2” will be the latest post-Pixar Golden Age sequel that can’t really measure up to the original.

Even if it doesn’t, however, a big box office haul is still expected. After all, the original “Inside Out” made over $350 million domestically, back when a lot more summer movies did that. In this year of very low box office expectations and alarming headlines, anything that merely reaches $250-300 million before “Deadpool and Wolverine” comes out will be treated as a Godsend by Hollywood. And if “Inside Out 2” actually has word of mouth that’s anything close to the Pixar legends of old, that could push it over a few milestones right there.

On the other end, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” doesn’t quite have that same level of hope. For all the buzz and eventual Oscar nominations “Mad Max: Fury Road” had, it technically didn’t even win its opening weekend at the box office thanks to “Pitch Perfect 2.” In fact, it ended up as only the 21’st highest grossing domestic movie of 2015, and even finished right below Dwayne Johnson’s disaster movie “San Andreas” for No. 20.

Second chapters like “Dune: Part Two” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” have taken massive box office leaps over their predecessors in recent months. But at the moment, no one really expects “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” to make that kind of jump, even if reviews and audience buzz can match the original. For that matter, a more family-based movie could beat it out in its opening weekend again, in this case, “The Garfield Movie.”

It’s one thing to hope, perhaps against hope, that both “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “Inside Out 2” will be as universally adored as their originals were nine years ago. But they might have better odds at doing that than they have at matching their box office from nine years ago. For “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” just getting close to “Mad Max: Fury Road’s” $153+ million domestic gross might be enough of a win – and since Warner Bros already has “Dune: Part Two” as a big action movie sequel victory this year, that may be enough laurels for it to rest on. And as for “Inside Out 2,” topping the original’s $356+ million domestic is probably impossible, but upsetting “Despicable Me 4” as the highest-grossing animated sequel this summer might be less so.

There are many, many reasons why some of us wish we were back in early summer 2015 again instead of summer 2024. At least in early summer 2015, when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” had its divisive opening, we would soon be rewarded with “Mad Max: Fury Road” and then “Inside Out” within weeks to carry us through the rest of the season. Now, in early summer 2024, for those of us disappointed by the low opening of “The Fall Guy” and not quite tided over by “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” we cling to hope that “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “Inside Out 2” will reward us within weeks, and carry us through the rest of this perhaps otherwise rough season.

If Miller and Pixar’s emotions could do this once, could they do it again and make us feel like it’s the mid-2010s again? Given the impossible standard “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out” set for summer 2015 and beyond, for both or even just one of their follow-ups to match it – and to give us that kind of water in the desert that may be the 2024 blockbuster season – might be a more historic, emotional joy ride.

Have you seen “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” yet? If so, what do you think of it? What are your thoughts on “Inside Out” and “Mad Max: Fury Road?” How do you think their sequels will perform at the box office and through awards season? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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