Friday, November 19, 2010

Is Cars 2 a clunker?

Cars is underappreciated. It's commonly listed as Pixar's "weakest" film or "mediocre" at best. To begin, remember we're dealing with a studio that has had an unprecedented eleven hit films in a row, including Cars (2006).

Cars is far from mediocre. It includes a number of positive themes about friendship, identity, humility, courage, adventure, and more (see my book The Wisdom of Pixar). Lightning McQueen, for example, goes from being a prideful, self-centered race car to seeing that the greater value is relational - meaningful friendships, not a trophy, which is, after all, "just an empty cup." He learns to slow down and enjoy the journey of life. What a great lesson for a race car and, in turn, for all of us.

Why don't some people resonate with Cars as much as with other Pixar movies? I think part of it has to do with the fact that cars are more difficult to make human-like or, in more technical lingo, to anthropomorphize. It's easier with toys, monsters, fish, etc., although even that is hard to do. But cars are often simply viewed as cold, metallic forms of transportation. Unlike Buzz or Woody from the Toy Story films, cars aren't already associated with looking or behaving like humans. I grant that, to a certain extent, anything can be anthropomorphized, as Pixar capably demonstrated with a pair of Luxo lamps many years ago. But a short film is not a feature film and many viewers probably had a hard time accepting cars as characters they should care about.

Now let's turn to Cars 2, Pixar's twelfth feature film, due out next year. I've heard and read a number of concerns about Cars 2, most wondering why Pixar would select their most "mediocre" film for sequel material. I've already briefly shared why I don't find Cars to be mediocre at all. But why select it for a sequel? Why not, for example, The Incredibles 2?

I think there are several reasons Pixar chose Cars as a sequel option. First, Cars has resulted in more than six billion dollars in merchandising revenue for Disney-Pixar (at least one billion of that is in my house, or at least it seems that way!). That's not to say that Disney-Pixar is only after the money. Those of us who know Pixar know that a quality story comes first. Still, Pixar is a company and they have to pay the bills. Cars 2 is a fun way of getting that done and telling a great story. Second, Pixar's chief creative officer, John Lasseter, loves cars and likely couldn't resist revisiting the world he helped create. Third, someone or a group of someone's pitched a really good story for Cars 2 that made it through multiple approval hurdles. This means that Cars 2 has been poked, prodded, had its tires kicked, and so forth, many times by multiple people prior to getting the green light. Fourth, who doesn't want more Mater!? Seriously, the guy is hilarious and even has his own Blu-ray/DVD in the form of Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales.

Does this mean that Cars 2 is destined to be one of Pixar's top films as opposed to a mediocre entry or, at worst, a clunker? At this point, we really don't know since we haven't seen the finished film. I had concerns about Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up before they came out, and all those films turned out great. So let's wait and see.

Am I looking forward to Cars 2? Definitely. It looks like a lot of over the top spy-thriller fun. Not only will it feature music by Academy-award winning composer Michael Giacchino, but it will also be the first time I take my youngest child, a boy who absolutely loves Cars, to the theater. I can't wait!


  1. really the weakest film, I thought it was pretty cool maybe because i'm a freak for cars and driving:D

  2. Really excellent piece, Robert. Well done.