Monday 25 June 2012

Theory: Newt Isn't Cancelled, It's Just Hibernating

*This post contains some mild spoilers if you haven't seen Brave yet*

Pixar's latest feature film, Brave, is out now in the US and its release dates for the rest of the world are fast approaching. With the release of a new Pixar film, swiftly comes the Easter-egg hunting. Pixar have a long-standing tradition of cross-pollinating their films with references, both to each other and to the wider world of animation in general. The most famous examples are the Pizza Planet Truck (which first appeared in 1995's Toy Story) and the code A113 - the very same code that this blog is named after.

Very common also though are references to other Pixar films, past and present. Occasionally for the purpose of time-saving or due to cost-constrains - like the use of Geri from the short film Geri's Game as the cleaner in Toy Story 2, or the tree from Ant Island from A Bug's Life being used as the scene for Jessie's happy playtime memories, also in Toy Story 2, due to the film's short time-frame for animation - but more often just as a neat little reference, indicative of the deep affection Pixar have for all of their projects. In Monsters, Inc. for example, in one of the final scenes in Boo's bedroom, you can see Jessie from Toy Story 2 and Nemo from Finding Nemo (the previous and following Pixar films). Also, in Ratatouille you can see a shadow of Dug, who would appear two year's later in Up.

Now that Brave is out, the search is on for how Pixar slotted its references into the antiquated 10th century Scottish setting. The Pizza Planet Truck has been spotted quite en masse, but A113 and an apparent Monsters University reference have alluded most viewers - despite Pixarian Cat Hicks' helpful hint (above) that all of the Easter eggs are in the same scene. However, one reference that has been noticed quite widely, to some delight and shock, was one to Pixar's cancelled project, newt.

The reference (above, image via The Pixar Times) sees the Witch who brews Merida a potion to change her fate, picking up a small newt off the floor. Its missing the key blue feet that we saw in the original concept art, but it's definitely a conscious reference to the cancelled film.

This is actually the second reference to the would-be film, Toy Story 3 sported the above reference as a sticker in Andy's room. This is an entirely innocent reference, as newt was still in development (that we knew of) until a couple of months before the Toy Story threequel was released. However, it's now been over two years since newt was cancelled, and last year's Cars 2 didn't have a reference (not to say every film has to have a reference to every other film), so the reference in Brave was a bit unexpected. This started me thinking, and led me to a theory: newt isn't cancelled, it's just hibernating.

newt was set to be the feature-directorial debut of Gary Rydstrom, a sound designer for Pixar and Lucasfilm for several decades and director of the brilliant 2006 short film, Lifted, and the Toy Story Toon, Hawaiian Vacation, which was paired with Cars 2 last year. The plot of the film was to follow "What happens when the last remaining male and female blue-footed newts on the planet are forced together by science to save the species, and they can't stand each other?" with the tagline reading "Love, it turns out, is not a science."

If the plot sounds familiar to you, its entirely understandable, as, around the same time, we heard about two very, very similar projects, Blue Sky Studios' Rio and Crest Animation's Alpha and Omega. This was a very large contributing factor to the demise of the film. newt was originally slated for a summer 2011 release, it was shortly thereafter pushed back to summer 2012, when it was announced that Brave was to take that place and no replacement date was offered up, it appeared newt was doomed. This was soon confirmed by Disney archivist Dave Smith and Disney veteran Floyd Norman, pronouncing newt dead.

Admittedly, Brave has been in production for about 7 years, so its production will have overlapped with newt's, there's even some concept art (above) for the scene showing Newt (courtesy of Pixar Wiki). So, it's entirely possible that the reference was pre-existing prior to newt's cancellation, or that it was intended to pay homage to the hard working team who were attached to the project before it was shelved. But, given that so many people were saddened when the film was cancelled, and that so many still want to see it, why would Pixar continue to tease us with something we can't have? Thus why I arrived at the conclusion that newt isn't gone for good, it's merely in stasis, and the references and hints are there, not to taunt us, but to maintain interest; to keep us, even a little bit, excited for newt.

The film was, through no fault of Pixar, nor even of Blue Sky or Crest - all of the film's were being developed around the same time - too derivative of the other two films. Pixar are renowned and beloved for their huge sense of originality and boundary-pushing, so, despite a great story and very likeable characters, newt just wouldn't work at the time.

This is partly also what leads me to hypothesise that the film isn't done for good after all. What better way to make the film seem original again than to put some space between it and the other films, in the meantime - whilst some minor story tweaks are made to help bring it further into its own thing and flush out any problems that might also have contributed to its cancellation - Gary Rydstrom was given directing duties on one of the Toy Story Toons and the rest of the crew dispersed onto other projects. Gestation may be the best thing for newt, if it keeps it alive. Let's not forget that Brave itself was in development for about 7 years and WALL-E was initially conceived, as Trash Planet, around the same time as A Bug's Life; so long, on-and-off productions aren't alien to Pixar. The only real difference between this and WALL-E, is that the production newt is much more known to the public - due to Pixar films being announced further in advance now, to quench its ever growing fanbase's thirst - a fact that Pixar can spin to their advantage.

The crux of my argument though, is that newt is simply too good a film not to be made. A fantastic premise and a great, seven time Academy Award winning, director mean it would surely have been another winner from the almost faultless studio. As soon as I heard about the project, it became my most anticipated Pixar film, and I was crestfallen when it was cancelled. So here's hoping.

My word isn't gospel though, and this is entirely speculation, hearsay and a little bit of wishful thinking. But, boy, it's fun to think about isn't it?

What do you think? Is there any validity to the theory? Were the references just an homage? Are you still interested in seeing newt?


  1. Fantastic article, William. As always. I think you're right, "Newt" needs a little time. Like "Cars", "WALL-E" and "Brave", it's one that will be reworked and improved in due time. We may never know, it might just show up in 2017 or so, right after "Dia De Los Muertos".

  2. I wouldn't say always, my ego can't take much more stroking, haha. But thanks, I always appreciate your feedback, Kyle.

    And yeah, it's such a great and interesting premise that it'd be a real shame for nothing to come of it. I'm intrigued to see how Gary would handle it as well. And hopefully! More Newt, less sequels.