One of Pixar’s lowest ranking films is getting a third installment. Why?
With the release of Pixar’s Cars 3 this Friday, it is difficult not to wonder why we need a third Cars film. We hardly needed a second. Despite both previous Cars films doing poorly at the box office compared to their predecessors, Pixar went on to create a third story. This makes Cars the second Pixar franchise to receive a third installment. While there is sure to be a follow-up film to another Pixar sequel eventually, for now, Cars and Toy Story remain the only two Pixar franchises to have more than two films made. So why does Pixar invest as much in one of its poorest performing films as it did in one of its best?
Think about the children.
If we are wondering why the idea of Cars 3 sounds incredulous, it’s because the film is not meant for us. Although Pixar has a history of engaging both adults and children, at the end of the day, the target demographic for these films is children. In a study done by Slate in which they compared rankings of Pixar films by children and professional critics, Cars 2 ranked within the top ten for kids. For critics, Cars 2 consistently ranked within the bottom two choices, with the first Cars film not that far ahead. Parents might not be excited at the prospect of another Cars movie, but their children will most likely be rushing them to the theater this weekend. It will, however, be going up against Despicable Me 3 which premieres at the end of June. Another third installment whose existence is puzzling from a storytelling viewpoint.
So, let’s put this in perspective.
Saying that Cars and Cars 2 performed poorly at the domestic box-office is a bit of an overstatement when considering movies in general. Cars made about 60 million during its opening weekend in June of 2006. When Cars 2 was released in the summer of 2011, it’s opening weekend brought in a little over $66 million. Overall though, Cars earned about $52 million more than Cars 2 domestically. This drop in ticket sales brings into question the popularity of the second movie with audiences. For a Pixar film, Cars 2 ranks 15 out of 17 films in domestic box-office earnings. This places it just above A Bugs Life, which is Pixar’s second film, and The Good Dinosaur, which is considered to be Pixar’s biggest flop yet. However, even though earning a little less than 200 million from ticket sales is probably not ideal for Pixar, that is still a much larger number than the average film out there.
Pixar doesn’t need the critics or even box-office success for that matter.
Looking past ticket sales and critic reviews, one area where the Cars franchise surpasses other films in the Pixar universe is merchandising. According to John Lasseter, the director of Cars 2 and chief creative officer for Pixar, the initial Cars film brought in about 10 billion in merchandise sales globally. This makes it one of the most profitable films Pixar has ever produced. Lasseter believes this spike in merchandise sales speaks to how popular the Cars characters are with kids. In recent years, Pixar has infiltrated the Cars universe even more into the lives of children through spin-off programs shown on Disney channels and on Cars DVDs. These Cars Toons, as they are called, are animated shorts that first aired in 2008 with a segment titled Mater’s Tall Tales. Just like the actual films, video games and toys were made based on these shorts as well. Therefore, even when there was no Cars movie to promote, the merchandise continued to sell, the animated shorts continued to play, and new generations consistently became familiar with the franchise. From this information, it is clear merchandising was a big factor in consideration when deciding whether or not to produce Cars 3.
Trading quality for quantity?
Pixar has famously claimed that they only produce sequels if they have discovered a story better or just as good as the original. Thinking of all Pixar’s sequels thus far, that statement, aside from Cars 2, seems to be valid. Finding Dory was a lovable film. Both Toy Story 2 and 3 were enjoyed by fans and critics. Although the prequel Monster’s University was not a particular favorite, it was interesting to see Sulley and Mike in their college years. However, even with these follow-up movies being a success in some form, arguably none of them have truly succeeded their originals. An article from The Verge noted that Finding Dory, Cars 2, and Monster’s University were the only Pixar films other than The Good Dinosaur to ever be left out of the Academy Awards. Pixar has always been concerned with great storytelling, but its sequels seem to rely heavily on character popularity to attract audiences. Aside from Toy Story 4 set to premiere in two years, The Incredibles 2 is set to premiere next year. If all goes as planned, Pixar will have released four sequels four years in a row. With other animation studios on the rise, it is clear Pixar is beginning to fall into a more conventional pattern to keep fans around. After all, familiarity with beloved characters goes a long way in attracting audiences, even if the story seems rather uninventive. How long this trend can last though is the real question that only time can tell.