Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cars (2006)

Published in the Pixar Directrospective at InReviewOnline

What if the whole world were devoid of humans, and only talking cars existed? Um, okay. That's weird. Where did the cars come from? Who makes them? Why do they have seats and steering wheels if there are no humans? And so on.

Cars simply doesn't work. And yes, I understand the concept of "suspension of disbelief." If you haven't already seen it (in which case you're lucky), the film is about a champion race car, Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson), getting lost in some hillbilly town a few miles off the main highway. The town's cop car imprisons him for speeding, then forces him to work off his crime by repaving the town's main street. Along the way, he learns important life lessons about slowing down, friendship, sportsmanship, etc. etc.

The official story is that director / Pixar CCO John Lasseter got the inspiration for the film after taking a cross-country road-trip with his wife and five sons. And there may be some truth to that. But the important part about that story is the fact that he has five sons. If he had five daughters, would we have gotten a car film? Unlikely.

Once upon a time, Disney had the corner on young boy entertainment. Way back in the "Davy Crocket" days. But somewhere along the way they latched onto the tween girl demographic and had such disturbing success ("Hannah Montana," "Jonas Brothers") that they lost touch with boys. Until Cars, that is. Commercially, the film did great. $461 million worldwide. Not bad at all. But that's pennies compared the merchandise they sold. $5 billion dollars! It turns out boys like cars. Now Disney has an entire team of anthropologists and psychologists researching the male 6-14 age bracket, finding what makes them tick and (more importantly) what they like to buy. And not surprisingly, Cars 2 is already in preproduction.

So where is this all heading? There are two futures for Disney/Pixar. One is creative. It starts with a great idea that has nothing to do with money, and everything to do with a story that we can connect with. The other path starts with a material goal (liking selling $5 billion in merchandise and cornering the male 6-14 bracket), then carefully crafts stories to facilitate that goal. The former promises wholesome entertainment and even art. The latter: money. In the past, they've accomplished both goals with the former category. Call me a cynic, but I'm not entirely hopeful for the future. At least we've got Dreamworks.

Final Thought: Cars isn't just a bad film. It's bad for film.

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