In a matter of only 15 years, Pixar has set the benchmark in terms of well-developed, imaginative and captivating animated films. Beginning with “Toy Story” in 1995, every one of the company’s ten feature films has gone on to enormous success, earning worldwide acclaim from critics and audiences alike, billions of dollars at the box office and a collective total of nine Academy Awards out of 34 nominations. To say the least, the animation giant has done quite well for itself.

Yet, such success only begs the question: When will Pixar fail? It’s irrational to think the company won’t eventually release a box office bomb, especially since a flop at this point would be earning under $200 million worldwide and receiving only generally positive critical reviews — a relative success for any other film. I mean, nobody’s perfect, right?

After Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross confirmed Pixar’s plan to release a “Monsters Inc.” sequel in November 2012, I’d say the animation company’s current direction certainly looks to test this question.

Up to this point, Pixar’s success has come from continuing to release films with unique storylines and fresh new characters that appeal to audiences of all ages — the exception being the studio’s third feature and only sequel, “Toy Story 2,” which was surprisingly just as good as the original despite being the only Pixar film to reuse characters and plotlines. Even innovative ideas that seemed risky on paper like a culinary rat cooking French food, a robot speaking predominantly in bleeps and bloops and a crotchety old man flying up and away in a balloon house went on to major success.

However, Pixar’s upcoming direction is moving away from this winning formula. Including “Monsters Inc. 2,” three of the next four scheduled Pixar features are sequels to past films — the other two being “Toy Story 3” which comes out this June, and a “Cars” sequel scheduled for June 2011. Additionally, “A Bug’s Life” sequel is slated for release in winter 2013. To put this in perspective, it’s been more than ten years since Pixar released its one and only sequel, yet the studio plans on releasing four within the next three years. If you ask me, Pixar is only setting itself up for failure.

Audiences love Pixar films because they are anything but the run of the mill, unimaginative, clich?d crap we usually get from other animation companies. But what will happen when the studio continuously attempts to make old material fresh? “Shrek,” one of the few beloved animated films in the past few years not branded with the name Pixar, suffered backlash when DreamWorks went too far and released the terrible “Shrek the Third,” hoping to bank off the success of the first film and its equally enjoyable sequel. Judging by the unpromising trailer for the upcoming “Shrek Forever After,” DreamWorks looks to keep digging itself into a repetitive hole of mediocrity.

Fortunately, Pixar should manage to avoid the same hole and keep its winning streak alive with “Toy Story 3.” The film not only features all the major voice talents, Lee Unkrich, who worked on the past films and co-directed the second, and an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in Michael Arndt, but also has amazing potential judging by its remarkable trailer. However, Pixar’s subsequent sequels don’t look as promising.

Out of the past six Pixar features, “Cars” boasted the lowest worldwide box office numbers, received considerably less critical praise and was the only film that didn’t win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Sure, the storyline leaves plenty of room to expand into a sequel, but it would be difficult to do so in an entertaining way that doesn’t tread too much along the path of the last film. Not to mention the fact that the deaths of Paul Newman and George Carlin prevent bringing back all the characters.

The same fate is sure to await the “Monsters Inc.” and “A Bug’s Life” sequels. Although successful, neither film is generally considered one of the Pixar greats. In addition, at least ten years will pass between both films and their subsequent sequels, leaving a massive time span for characters. “Toy Story 3” was able to successfully surpass this obstacle allowing a fresh plot, but other sequels don’t have this luxury. This means “Monsters Inc.,” for example, will either have to age Boo, the beloved glue holding the film together with youth and cuteness, or not advance ten years in the future and seriously risk using the same jokes and plotlines that worked the first time but would seem tiresome if used again.

Sure, “Brave,” a tale about a Scottish daughter of royalty who would rather make her mark as an archer and the only confirmed non-sequel in Pixar’s near future, also could become Pixar’s first flop, but it’s an imaginative idea that is far less risky than some of Pixar’s other successful films, and with original characters and plotlines it’s more promising than potentially exasperating sequels. Pixar’s current formula has led to seven straight hits. I’d say if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Tony Lewis is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies. Are you excited to see Sully and Mike team up again for a “Monsters Inc.” sequel? E-mail him at [email protected]