Pixar has one of the most iconic libraries of any movie studio. And it’s one that continues to grow with the release of turn red earlier this year and Light year on my way. However, there is one franchise that lives on under Pixar’s label that isn’t viewed as favorably as the others – Cars. The first one Cars The film was released in 2006 and quickly became Pixar’s first franchise after toy story not only to get a sequel, but also to complete a trilogy. This is not an easy task; the trilogy has grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide, and the franchise is an absolute behemoth in merchandise and toy sales.
And even Cars doesn’t get the love and adoration that many Pixar films before and since have enjoyed. While the majority of Pixar’s library are considered absolute classics that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, Cars seems to be accepted as a “kids only” matter. Let’s explore the curious little legacy of Cars franchise, and how these films fit into the greater Pixar tapestry.
The first one Cars the movie isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination – it’s actually a very charming and engaging picture whose bright animation, quirky jokes and heartfelt story are sure to engage very young mind. However, it’s in the larger context surrounding its release that the cracks start to show, and its public perception makes more sense. Prior to Cars, every Pixar movie was an instant classic. It’s hard to describe how well Pixar was doing; its success rate was unprecedented for any film studio, let alone any animated film studio.
So what Cars came out and was just… good. Not great, not horrible – just good. And good versus great is always a noticeable blip. During Pixar’s first 15 years of making films, Cars is the only one to drop below 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Then, in its 16th year, Pixar released Cars 2 – and it really didn’t help. Cars 2 was the first Pixar film to get a “rotten” rating on the site. It was the first Pixar movie that didn’t work for families and only worked for kids. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s weird for Pixar. The trilogy was then capped off with the release of Cars 3the lowest grossing of the three, and which holds the unique achievement of being the only “fresh” rating Pixar has that is not fully certified fresh, being stuck at 69%.
There are many reasons why Cars doesn’t land at the same level as most other Pixar properties. It can’t escape the stigma of being the only Pixar series that doesn’t reach the heights that audiences know the studio is more than capable of. Especially with Cars 2, a movie that doesn’t try to be more than the sum of its parts, and in many ways a betrayal of the sweet nature of the first and third installments. However, even with Cars and Cars 3 – the film’s themes are built around old-school rural America and NASCAR racing, and it’s just not accessible to the general public. One of the great tricks of many Pixar films is to use unique settings and characters to tell universal stories, but Cars It’s not that. Even the best of them deal with something that a lot of people don’t like, and it’s strange that movies never set out to do that.
That’s not to say that basing a film on NASCAR racing is a bad idea per se – it’s just that to fully appreciate it at its best, audiences need to be aware of a very niche topic. That’s probably why Cars as a franchise does better at the domestic box office than the international box office, and why the highest-grossing worldwide of the three was the spy movie for kids. Cars is a curious series of movies, and while it’s easier to talk about, it becomes clearer why it was never one of Pixar’s favorite kids. However, that doesn’t stop the series from endlessly printing money through its wares. The franchise shows no signs of stopping either, with cars on the road just down the street on Disney+.