The Pixar Blogathon is going a bit out of order and skipping past The Incredibles so we can look at 2006’s Cars first. Our review of The Incredibles is taking a bit longer than usual (I have a lot to say. Lots of good things) and I didn’t want to hold up the flow any longer.
Lightning McQueen is the most unlikable hero to star in a Pixar film yet. So far, most of Pixar’s lead characters suffered from one or more character flaws but were endearing enough for us to stick with them as they overcame these issues; Woody moves past his jealousy issues in Toy Story, Marlin learns to “let go” in Finding Nemo; Mr. Incredible realizes family is more important than glory. McQueen doesn’t do anything endearing for nearly the entire movie. Instead he showboats for fans, alienates his friends, and looks down on everyone else. A glimmer of hope comes about twenty minutes in when we realize McQueen doesn’t really have any friends and for a moment you start to maybe feel bad for the racecar. But just a few seconds later he forces his big rig chauffeur Mack to drive through the night so he can schmooze with potential sponsors and our connection is lost again.
Eventually McQueen comes around, learns some humility and isn’t a huge jerk to everyone. But it takes a really, really long time for him to do anything that isn’t obnoxious. And look, I’m not saying all lead characters need to be angels or even nice people. Plenty of movies showcase jerks and work better for it. But it’s tough to enjoy a movie where the guy you’re rooting for is an arrogant semi-scumbag.
Cars features plenty of fun gags (although not nearly as many as the other Pixar films). It doesn’t lack for jokes but the characters and storyline are flatter than the earlier movies. Mater’s comic relief isn’t as relieving as Rex (Toy Story), Heimlich (A Bug’s Life), or Dory (Finding Nemo). The supporting cast in general add less to the movie than Andy’s toys, the warrior bugs, the monsters, and the fish/turtles/pelicans we’ve seen before. And arguably the villain for the majority of the movie is McQueen himself who can’t seem to get out of his own way. Still, Cars manages to have some brighter moments. Mater, while not as great as older characters, shines at times with his lovable simplicity. The car related gags, while not as funny as the fish and toy jokes, still work and it’s fun to see Pixar brings its humor to a new world.
Probably the most redeeming trait for the movie is how much kids seem to love it. Toy shelves are still stocked with Cars merchandise even with Frozen, Wreck it Ralph and all the Marvel movies pumping in toys of their own. Cars really is insanely merchandizable. You could make tiny plastic versions of every character and let’s be honest, they’d be more fun to play with than Carl and Russel from Up. Not that I still play with toys or anything. The profits from these sales undoubtedly impacted the call for a sequel and the DisneyToon Studios Planes spin-offs. Let’s look at some financial stats (yay finances!).
- According to Disney execs, Cars merchandise had apparently made $1 billion through 2006, which is completely insane and would beat the worldwide box office gross of every Pixar film to date except for Toy Story 3 which sits at $1.06 now according to Box Office Mojo [1, 2].
- The two Cars films grossed over $1 billion together worldwide.
- The spin-off Planes and its sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue added almost $400 million in box office profits to heap.
- Cars and its sequel are the Pixar films with the worst ratings but it will be the second series to complete a trilogy after Toy Story.
The money makes the continued Cars onslaught a no-brainer even if the quality is off. Maybe it is the quality of the films that preceded it that makes Cars so frustrating. When we come to expect so much, we may never be satisfied. Luckily, some of the studios best films come in the years after this sub-par addition.
The funniest moment from the entire movie comes in the end credits when Mack watches a series of Cars-versions of Pixar movies in a drive through. As Toy Car Story, Monster Truck, Inc., and A Bug’s Life roll on screen, Mack applauds the voice work of actors on screen only to realize the same actor is voicing all the characters. We of course know that all characters are played by John Ratzenberger who also voices Mack. Ratzenberger has been in every Pixar film to date and is considered the studio’s good luck charm