By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 23, 2011 at 4:59AM
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.
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.
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.