Cars has long been considered “the runt of the Pixar litter”, the weakest of their generally stratospherically soaring output. There was little doubt that kids loved it, but adults treated it with contempt, myself included. My view softened only when watching it with Clark and seeing how effectively it tapped into his own imagination, a shift that also seems to be shared by many young parents. When a sequel was announced my initial reaction was simply, “who decided that what we really need is Cars 2?” The answer was actually pretty obvious: the accountants. Whatever people may have thought of the film, Cars provided Pixar with its most easily exploitable and most profitable merchandising opportunities to date, pulling in an estimated $5 billion. In those terms it certainly makes a sequel a financially appealing prospect, and such voices clearly won through.
My view of Toy Story 3 was not nearly as positive as most for what I felt it symbolised in terms of stagnating creativity within Pixar (it was a great film, but most of you will know I consider it roundly bested by How To Train Your Dragon that year). Nevertheless I was content not to begrudge them that sequel in returning to their landmark roots one more time to round things out. The Cars franchise lacks that storied history or shared nostalgia and I think this is why its sequel resonated so poorly with critics who likely take a similar view in terms of stagnation but responded with an overzealous attack on the film to voice their displeasure. It is not an isolated occurrence. On the one hand this may filter through to Pixar; on the other it is almost certainly unfair to what appears to be an entirely competent children’s film. No, I doubt I’ll be seeing it in the cinema, but that is less to do with reviews and more my own rather lacklustre reaction to Up (other than the first ten minutes) and the original Cars. More than ever, though, I find myself wishing the studio split I (wrongly) foresaw after Wall-E had come to pass, with a second Pixar team working on adult-orientated animated features. It is not — as many critics would now have you believe — that Pixar are putting out bad films; it is simply that they are not creating the ones in which I am interested and of which their career highlights (that would be Monsters, Inc, Wall-E and The Incredibles) demonstrate they are eminently capable.
Meanwhile the Disney side of the equation is even starker: an in-house Cars spin-off called Planes. Seriously. I actually thought it might be a joke at first (given its recent string of entertaining parody trailers for the Muppet Movie). Of course we almost expect this from Disney as the behemoth it is, while that corporate outlook seemed not to have seeped through to Pixar culture in the past. I suspect Planes will be used by many as further evidence of Pixar’s downfall. Yet the weirdest thing about the Planes trailer is actually the soundtrack: White Zombie in a Disney flick!?