— The critics have weighed in on “Cars 2,” and the results aren’t pretty. It scored a 33% on the Rotten Tomato meter by Saturday night, with 92 of the 138 cited reviews having less than positive things to say about it. Many consider it to be the worst Pixar film ever.
“Cars 2” is more than just a disappointment; it’s Pixar’s first clunker,” wrote Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz.
“They said it couldn't be done. But Pixar proved the yaysayers wrong when it made its first bad movie, 'Cars.' Now it has worsted itself with the even more awful "Cars 2,” sniped Kyle Smith of the New York Post.
“For Pixar's sake, and for ours, let's hope that the fast track of "Cars 2" is a temporary detour,” pleaded The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morganstern.
It doesn’t take a secret agent to sense the disappointment. And “Cars 2” certainly lacks the heft and emotion of “Toy Story 3,” a Pixar sequel that earned a well-deserved Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. This film won’t get that kind of attention from the folks who hand out awards.
But then again, that’s not the audience this is marketed to. When you’re dealing with a crowd that features a more frenzied line for booster seats than the one for popcorn, not many are worried about what the professional critics think.
It’s all about keeping the children happy and entertained in the air conditioning for a couple of hours. And considering it earned $68 million at the box office in its first weekend in theatres, it’s apparent that nobody was too upset that this wasn’t as critically acclaimed as “WALL-E” or “Up.”
That’s the tricky aspect of having adults review films intended for children. Kids tend not to care as much about things like the quality of the character development or the subtlety of the plot. “Cars 2” has the jokes designed to appeal to the bigger folks with the credit cards and the non-animated cars needed to get to the theatre, but this movie was made because of how well the first one resonated with the small fry.
There are a lot of elements going against “Cars 2” here. It can be harder to relate to a humanized car than, say, a toy cowboy or space explorer. Moreover, the lead character in the sequel is Mater the tow truck, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, along with his pal Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson. Neither of those actors get much critical acclaim when they’re playing themselves, so it’s not surprising that the critics don’t love their cartoon alter egos either.
Of course, nobody cast them here in a quest to win Best Actor nominations. They have their roles because they were successful winning the hearts of kids in the original “Cars,” and based on the early returns, they are doing the same in the sequel.
Similarly, in “Cars 2” the plot against Lightning McQueen and his fellow racing cars is awkward. The conflict between alternative fuels and gasoline is way over the head of younger viewers and not developed enough for the older ones, and not many are going to understand that the cars trying to harm the Radiator Springs gang are known for being lemons even after the script belabors that point. The whole thing is basically just a flimsy excuse to get the principal actors to Europe.
Then again, the same was true of 2004's “Ocean’s Twelve,” another film that the audience liked better than the critics. And if the spy mystery is confusing at times and doesn’t always make a lot of sense … well, welcome to any James Bond film.
But the main issue working against this is that critics have come to expect Pixar films to be more adult-oriented. It’s great that the kids like “Up” and “Toy Story 3,” but the fact that adults can take their children is often just an excuse for those adults to go see it themselves. Pixar films tend to bring out a lot of grandparents and childless aunts and uncles who want to take the kids for an afternoon in order to see it. This is less complicated, a straightforward buddy movie that just happens to star animated automobiles.
The criticism is ironic, since this movie is about appreciating things for what they are rather than for what others may expect. Lightning McQueen sends Mater away for acting inappropriately in Japan, only to have regrets before the next racing stop. Mater also has to overcome the perception of the British agents who view his goofiness as a cover,
“No one realizes they are being fooled, because they are too busy laughing at the fool,” says the British superspy Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine).
Mater responds: “Is that how you see me?”
“That's how everyone sees you. Isn't that the idea?" is the response.
Maybe that’s something that’s easier for kids to appreciate. If you’re constantly being told to sit down and pay attention in class rather than make jokes to your friend in the next row, or warned about behaving in the proscribed manner of your elementary school, that message may relate to you more than it does to an adult who’s heard this all before.
For the folks at Pixar, that message has to have more resonance this week. While the critics may have made fun of “Cars 2,” the kids with their Lightning McQueen race cars and Mater T-shirts clearly see something more here, which is making this yet another one of their hits. And if that leads to a “Cars 3” — well, kids won’t be disappointed, even if the adult critics will.