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“Rotten” Reviews don’t make “Cars 2” a Pixar Failure

June 27, 2011

By John C.

No matter what you think of the film, history was made for Pixar with Cars 2.  Last week, it became the first of their stellar films to receive a “Rotten” rating on the popular review-aggregating website, Rotten Tomatoes.  Coming in at a depressing 33%, critics put the film in the same low league as all of the noisy blockbusters that usually populate the summer movie season.  We all unabashedly awarded Cars 2 the highest rating of 4-stars, a stark contrast by comparison.

I’m not saying that audiences are always right, but Cars 2 made $66.1 million in domestic box office over the weekend, and I’m willing to bet that the majority of those ticket buyers didn’t have a bad experience watching the film.

Now lets back up a little bit.  I first saw the film on June 18th, at a well-attended Saturday morning screening, and walked out with no reservations on how I felt.  I took to Twitter to share my enthusiasm, and tweeted that: “Pixar has done it again – Cars 2 dazzles with humor, heart and a sophisticated story filled with breathtaking action.”  I had written the bulk of my review before seeing anyone else’s thoughts on the film, and was literally shocked when the rotten reviews started to pour in.  I didn’t give the film 4-stars out of a need to stand out from the crowd or to try to make a point, and it certainly wasn’t a decision blindly based off of Pixar’s previous track record.  It was merely because it was a genuine representation of how I felt directly after seeing the film.

The film first went “Rotten” this past Tuesday, as it dropped down to 52%.  By Thursday, it had settled in the mid-40’s.  Again, I used social networking to share my feelings, and tweeted: “Shocked by the rotten reviews on Cars 2, just not right for Pixar. Hoping our raves (coming tomorrow) can help restore some of the buzz…”  Quite literally, I was shocked.  It was a feeling of uncertainty, as if something had unravelled and caused a divide between the seemingly inseparable world of film critics and avid Pixar fans.  I knew it wouldn’t necessarily garner the same universal high praise as Pixar’s previous films, but I honestly didn’t expect Cars 2 to receive this sort of critical backlash.

My spirits were lifted later in the day on Thursday, with a refreshing 3.5-star review from famed critic Roger Ebert.  Kudos to him for rating the film based solely off of his own enjoyment, as he wrote:  “I have no idea what kids will make of the movie.  At a time when some “grown-up” action films are relentlessly shallow and stupid, here is a movie with such complexity that even the cars sometimes have to pause and explain it to themselves.”  He delightfully opened his final paragraph by saying, “Cars 2 is fun.  Whether that’s because (director) John Lasseter is in touch with his inner child or mine, I cannot say.”

I love everything Pixar has ever done and consider myself among their legions of fans, but personally chose not to compare Cars 2 to their previous films.  I never expected it to play in the same mature and emotionally complex league as such standout achievements as WALL•E, Up or last year’s Toy Story 3, and in turn see such comparisons as pointless.  As Cars is the most commercialized of the Pixar films and the one to sell the most merchandise, perhaps critics were always cynical towards the prospect of a sequel.  But if you strip away all of that and forget about every toy car and t-shirt that will be sold in the name of the film, Cars 2 was clearly a personal project for director John Lasseter.

John Lasseter has always loved cars, and has been quoted as saying that “motor oil runs through his veins.”  His love of automobiles goes way back to his childhood, as his father owned and worked at a Chevy dealership.  I like to think of the world of Cars as an homage to the world his father lived in and that which he grew up in.  Lasseter had to cancel a recent press tour to Toronto, as his father sadly passed away last month at the age of 87.  Even if this doesn’t add to your appreciation of the film, those merely accusing Cars 2 of being an excuse to sell more toys, should step back and recognize the personal connection the director holds to the material.

Perhaps the most important quote that we can add to this conversation right now is that of restaurant critic Anton Ego at the end of Pixar’s 2007 ‘follow-your-dreams’ masterpiece, Ratatouille.  “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy.  We enjoy a position over those who offer their work and selves up for judgement.  We thrive on negative criticism which is fun to write and to read.  But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

At the end of the day, film criticism often does come down to little more than personal opinion.  Some critics would say the most pressure comes from being the sole voice that dislikes an acclaimed film.  But sometimes the hardest part is those times when we critics must be true to our selves and openly wear our hearts on our sleeves, declaring our love for something that others have already disregarded.  There are those times when it feels like a justification should be offered in order to shed light on strong feelings towards a certain film, especially when the opinion of the individual goes against that of the critical majority.  I just never thought that love for a title from the Pixar library would be something that is expected to be justified.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2011 1:39 pm

    Neither did I understand why so many ‘rotten’ reviews about this movie sequel. I saw it last week and as soon as I left the session I posted on Facebook how good it was… And then, as I was reading some news today, it came to my attention that Cars 2 didn’t receive so much praise.. A shame, I believe, since it is a very well written& produced movie.


    • October 23, 2011 7:56 pm

      I agree with everything you said. As I said in my article, we saw the film in advance of the release date and were pretty shocked when the other reviews started piling in. Cars 2 works really well for what it is – an incredibly entertaining film.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      -John C.


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