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Shocker: Cars 2 Early Reviews Trend Rotten as Pixar's Magic Carpet Ride Touches Down

by Anne Thompson
June 23, 2011 4:59 AM
10 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Well folks, the worm has turned. Disney Animation and Pixar chief John Lasseter--he who can do no wrong--has finally turned out a Pixar movie (a sequel) that is earning mixed reviews. No! Say it ain't so! Pixar's magic carpet ride has finally come to earth with a thudding 44% Rotten on the Tomatometer thus far. More reviews will change the tallies; Metacritic's rating of its top-grade reviewers is now a respectable 60--still the lowest ever for a Pixar movie.

No other studio can match Pixar's consistent record for top reviews and box office--over $6.6 billion worldwide over 11 movies. They've never had a flop! On Rotten Tomatoes' list of the best-reviewed films of all time--ranked 100%-- are #1 Toy Story 2 and #4 Toy Story. The rest of Pixar's output: Toy Story 3 earned 99%, 2009's Up and 2003's Finding Nemo, 98%, 2004's The Incredibles, 97%, 2008's Wall-E and 2007's Rataouille, 96%, 2001's Monsters Inc., 95%, 1991's A Bug's Life, 91%. Tellingly, the technically brilliant first Cars was the worst-reviewed Pixar movie ever, with a perfectly respectable 74%.

A sampling of early reviews and the trailer are below.

Thompson on Hollywood

Clearly, Pixar is aiming to broaden their fanbase by targeting that big male NASCAR audience out there in flyover land. While this experiment did not win over every critic--we'll see how well it plays with families at the summer box office. Disney doesn't care about those reviews. They care about the bottom line. But it's a pity that Lasseter couldn't continue to throw all the balls in the air--just to show it could be done. Pixar set a quality standard.

It's no coincidence that the man in charge of Cars 2--remember, every Pixar movie is a team effort--is now a studio suit. Never has a Pixar sequel fallen prey to the issues that plague so many studio franchises. Until now. (I won't see the movie until this weekend.)

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly:


The resulting sequel is as forced and overloaded as the premise suggests — a rare display of narrative and tonal struggle on the part of Pixarians, famous for their attention to the nuances of story line and character development. But at least Cars 2 looks as expertly sleek and sturdy as audiences have come to expect from the standard-setting animation company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:


Featuring cooler cars and more action than Fast Five, Cars 2 is notably less refined and more rambunctious than Pixar's recent run of artistic gems. But commercially, it'll be off to the races this summer, with even bigger international prospects assured on this lap than on the first spin.
Thompson on Hollywood

Christy Lemire, San Francisco Gate:

"Cars 2" tries to encompass many kinds of stories at once, none of which is terribly clever or compelling. And the fact that Pixar mastermind John Lasseter is back as director is the most baffling part of all. This is the man who kicked it all off with the soulful and groundbreaking "Toy Story" back in 1995. This is not someone from whom you would expect empty glossiness.

Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel:


“Cars 2″ over-compensates for those “Get off the fast track” mid-life crisis musings, but does so in an often funny and action-packed “James Bond goes Racing” comedy. They turn more of the story over to the comic relief, the dopey tow truck Tow Mater, and get a sillier, more kid-friendly movie out of it. Yes, “Cars 2″ is better than “Cars.”

Nick Schager, Village Voice:


Pixar’s Cars franchise takes a sharp turn from NASCAR mayhem and rural red-state-targeted ’50s nostalgia to 007 espionage with this upgraded sequel, though in its delivery of Matchbox-machine superheroics for its young male demographic, it stays true to its prime function as an advertising vehicle for lucrative merchandise…Director John Lasseter’s 3-D-enhanced animation sparkles, but it can’t energize centerpieces lacking in suspense, and shoving bumbling sidekick Mater—here cast as a Southern-fried Inspector Clouseau—into the spotlight does little to offset the dullness of these cloak-and-dagger machinations.

Justin Chang, Variety:


If "Cars" was perhaps the least engaging of Pixar's hugely successful animated features, John Lasseter and his team have hit the creative accelerator with the unexpectedly delightful "Cars 2." The rare sequel that improves on its predecessor, this lightning-paced caper-comedy shifts the franchise into high gear with international intrigue, spy-movie spoofery and more automotive puns than you can shake a stickshift at, handling even its broader stretches with sophistication, speed and effortless panache.

10 Comments

  • Kathryn | July 3, 2011 7:56 AMReply

    As a parent of a 3 and 4 year old who are big fans of the Cars movie, I was deeply disappointed that Disney/Pixar would screen such a violent sequel. Shame on them for fooling unsuspecting parents into taking their innocent children to a movie with unacceptable guns and violence. The G rating is absolutley ridiculous! It is amusing enough for adults, but it really is not a kids movie.

  • MOGAL | June 24, 2011 10:21 AMReply

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  • Manuel | June 24, 2011 10:15 AMReply

    Yes, it had to happen eventually. But I am glad it happened with the Cars sequel, as Cars was already a Pixar movie I was disappointed with. So I have no problem passing on this one (until the Blu-Ray comes out for rent).

    And I say we can still expect great things also from the Disneyfied Pixar who still gave us the incredibly brilliant conclusion to the Toy Story saga with TS3.

  • Anne Thompson | June 24, 2011 9:40 AMReply

    Tellingly, that's what editors are for. I edit myself--with the help of hawk-eyes like you. Thanks, I took one out.

  • Javier | June 24, 2011 8:41 AMReply

    "Tellingly" is a once-per-article kinda word. Just sayin'.

  • Tommy | June 24, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    A dark, cold day in movie history... the first serious failure for Pixar, a film that will make lots of money but will go down as their weakest "vehicle" (LOL I made a pun teehee) and will be likely dismissed by reviewers in the future as if it never happened. Cars 2 is according to reviewers, a disaster that wastes their most expensive animation to date on nonsensical action and tired gags from Mater.

    The end of classic Pixar. Such an unfortunate period. Had to happen, though. But let's say it: 1995-2010, Toy Story all the way up to Toy Story 3. 15 years of absolute brilliance that we will cherish for decades, 11 flawless films. As of the 24th of June 2011, what we know as the true Pixar has come to a finish.

  • Sergio | June 23, 2011 8:47 AMReply

    Cars 2 is a drastic improvement over Cars take it from me. Clever, visually stunning and rather amusing though the central character of Mater is somewhat too overbearing. (His stupidity gets to be too much. Then in the last minutes all of a sudden he becomes a genius and figures out everything.) But still I found myself every much entertained by it. Unlike Cars which was a boring, long slog it sit through.

    I must add though that the main premise I have trouble with - that is this bizzaro alternative world where everything is populated by automobiles. It's hard to drum up empathy with an inanimate object.

  • Anne Thompson | June 23, 2011 7:25 AMReply

    Good points Ryan. I include portions and links to actual reviews for just that reason. And I added metacritic, thanks.

  • Ryan | June 23, 2011 6:23 AMReply

    A piece like this draws light on how useless Rotten Tomatoes has become. Yes, the film is at 39% on rotten tomatoes, but it has an average score of 60 on Metacritic, and 61 makes for a positive review.

    Reviews are always going to be a factor in deciding whether or not someone sees a film, but I think it's ridiculous to say rotten or fresh because there are various factors that contribute to what someone wants to see. If I see a 50 on Metacritic, but the review explains why they sort of liked it, I might realize it's a film I want to see.

    I don't want to lump in the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down style founded by Siskel & Ebert in my criticism of quick reviews. That was a half hour show where each critic explained his reasoning: it was a thoughtful discussion, not a splattering of green. Plus, every critic is not Siskel & Ebert. I think a critic has to earn the right to a flippant one-gesture summation of a film.

  • ag | June 23, 2011 5:37 AMReply

    have to say -- not that surprised. thought cars 2 was a strange (even bizarre) idea back when it was announced, then, when i first saw footage, knew it would be...how to say...less than great, which ain't saying much for a pixar product.

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