Chicago, IL – Last weekend Disney and Pixar’s Cars 2 hit theaters to over $66 million in ticket sales, a number on par with typical recent Pixar releases including Wall-E, Up, and anything without the words “Toy” and “Story” in the title. Still, Cars 2 is a sequel to what is critically referred to as Pixar’s worst picture; Cars was also the lowest theatrical grosser from Pixar’s film roster. Rotten Tomatoes rates Cars 2 at 33%, a rotten rating indicating few critics found much to like. Why, then, did Cars 2 get made?
Anybody working in toys and licensing knows that Cars 2 got made because the Cars franchise is perhaps Pixar’s most lucrative. With $461, 983, 149 gross revenue, Cars was a success in theaters, but licensed merchandise is where the brand truly shines. According to Disney, Cars has generated sales approaching $10 billion at retail, found in this article by the Los Angeles Times. Apparel, Direct to DVD, episodic television, storybooks, video games, and a plethora of toys cars and race tracks makes Cars one of the primary reasons Pixar has been able to make more popular, four quadrant films like Up, Wall-E, and the upcoming Brave. These merchandising numbers put Cars in the ranks with Star Wars, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Toy Story, and Batman, perennially popular brands reaping billions worldwide in addition to inside the cinemas.
Films like Up and Wall-E hit theaters to massive acclaim, but failed to register in merchandise sales. Disney has long built its film schedule around merchandising opportunities. But is the reception to Cars 2 so bad? Is this a game changer for Pixar? Are the days of quality stalwart over? The age of sellouts arrived?
A quick look at Cars 2 cinema score paints a rosier picture. Audiences gave Cars 2 a solid A-, and we have to assume mostly parents are rating the flick. A closer look at the actual reviews on Rotten Tomatoes also changes the picture: critics didn’t dislike Cars 2, they were surprised it wasn’t the all-audiences entertainer Toy Story 3, Up, and Wall-E were. I found only a few reviews actually calling Cars 2 a bad movie, and there are always a few haters.
It is important to remember the intended audience of a film and not compare it to films by the same studio that are intended for a differing or more expansive audience. It sounds like the intended audience loves Cars 2, which isn’t unexpected considering Pixar’s track record.
So is Pixar selling out? Why, because Disney wants to make some big money? Why, because Pixar executives decided to make a film not aimed at general audiences, but specifically at young boys? What is the harm in selling some toys?
Cars brought delight to a lot of 2-10 year old boys and a big part of that was the toys and apparel that accompanied the movie. Pixar chief creative officer and Cars 2 director John Lasseter is a huge geek, a toy collector, and a father. Sounds like he made the movie he intended to make…and a choice that looks nothing like selling out from where I’m standing.
I hope Pixar doesn’t make a habit of producing sequels, but then again I’m pumped for Monsters University and I would love to see The Incredibles 2 get made. Pixar has an enviable record for success, critically, financially, and in the hearts of viewers everywhere. I’m excited for Brave, a new conceptualization of the classic Disney princess. I don’t think Cars 2 changes my expectations in the slightest.