By Drew Taylor | The Playlist October 18, 2011 at 9:20AM
"Cars 2" was misery. Not only was it a pretty lousy movie, but it showed that Pixar, a studio that has had a nearly peerless streak of hit movies that were smart, entertaining and deeply thoughtful, was creatively fallible. At the time of its release, a handful of critics got behind the film but most found it to be loud, excessive, and driven only by the massive merchandising opportunities (since "Cars"-related junk brings in billions of dollars for the Walt Disney Company annually).
The New York Times (via Hollywood Reporter) sat down with "Cars 2" director (and Disney creative chief) John Lasseter for the film's Blu-ray and DVD debut on November 1st and talked about the critical slings and arrows the film received. The filmmaker took the opportunity to defend the film against accusations that it was a corporately encouraged move… but in the clumsiest way imaginable.
First, it's worth noting that Lasseter immediately shied away from any discussion of what the Times describes as "the studio’s shortage of directors who are women and female protagonists in its films" and what has handily been described online as "Pixar's glass ceiling" (meaning there really is something to it). But he did vehemently deny that "Cars 2" was produced solely for its merchandising importance to the company (keep in mind that the "Cars" franchise is also the lynchpin in a multi-billion dollar renovation of the Disney California Adventure theme park, scheduled to open next summer).
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Lasseter told the Times. “Well, I guess I do. It’s not true. It’s people who don’t know the facts, rushing to judge. I recognize my place in the Walt Disney Company, but my job, my focus, my deepest desire is to entertain people by making great movies, and we did that with ‘Cars 2.’ ”
The Times points out how hectic Lasseter's schedule is, overseeing various operations at the Disney studio while also running Pixar (which has at least a half dozen films currently in development, none directed by Lasseter), leading to speculation that he wasn't focused enough on the film and that it slid through without objection from the Pixar staff.
“This is not an executive-led studio," he contended. “We are honest with each other and we push each other. No amount of great animation is going to save a bad story. That’s why we go so far to make it right.” He then both stressed the film's importance while downplaying any kind of corporate responsibility: “When a lot of money is at stake, as there is with these films, there is the tendency to try something you know you can land. We simply don’t do that.”
If anyone can even explain the story of "Cars 2" to us (which involved a James Bond-ish spy plot and a commentary on alternative fuels, among other things), we'll happily buy you a copy of the movie on Blu-ray. Later he said: "I reached deep into myself and saw what this film was about." (Again: what is it about?) He continued, "I think it’s clear that audiences have responded. It’s is a very, very special film to me."
Lasseter also doesn't acknowledge the rockiness of the film's production, with the original director Brad Lewis not only asked to step down (Lasseter was his replacement) but to leave the company altogether (which is also what happened to Brenda Chapman, who started out directing next summer's "Brave" before getting the boot).
But his best defense is when discounting the scathing critical response to the film: “I typically don’t read the reviews. I make movies for that little boy who loves the characters so much that he wants to pack his clothes in a Lightning McQueen suitcase.”
So it's not about the Lightning McQueen suitcases, it's about the little boy who carries around a Lightning McQueen suitcase. Oh. Now everything's crystal clear.