Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Of Cars and Critics

Since the new Pixar film is right around corner, the reviews are in...

The movie in question is Cars 3... The third installment in a series that's arguably the "black sheep" of Pixar's filmography, or that proverbial "redheaded stepchild" or the one that will just never be worthy.

I always figured that Cars 3 was never going to get anything above, say, an 80% on the almighty Rotten Tomatoes. The first Cars film still has the highest RT percentage score for a Cars movie, and it's a solid 74%. The second film got Pixar's first and only Rotten score - around 40%-ish - and this new movie is hovering around 69% as of this writing. That's a few clicks above the "Fresh" threshold.

Some reviews echo a similar sentiment. "Yeah it's fine, but it's Cars, so it's inferior anyways."

Collider wrote "A good Cars movie is still a below-average Pixar movie." We have an article on /Film on how the world the movie takes place in is "maddening" and so "out of step" with Pixar's filmography. Rotten Tomatoes' consensus blurb says "Cars 3 has an unexpectedly poignant story to go with its dazzling animation" and that the franchise is middle-of-the-road. Unexpectedly? Middle-of-the-road? Did you see the first movie in the series?

Alright, so if you really dislike Cars, you may want to stop reading. My credibility is probably gone now...

I'm a rare breed of animation fan that actually really likes, no scratch that, loves John Lasseter's Cars. The day it came out, I hadn't heard the end of it: It was Pixar's weakest, it was their stumble, it was unoriginal, it was "less adult," it was this, it was that, the world it takes place in makes no sense, how do they reproduce?! Even the more positive reviews for that 2006 picture basically all said "It's good, just not as good as Pixar's other movies." Compare that to the audience reception. The first movie made 4x its opening weekend gross, a multiplier most movies would kill for. If this was some poor-quality, kids-only movie, it wouldn't have had those kinds of legs in a fairly competitive summer. I've met few in real life outside the Internet that finds the movie to be... Well... Bad.

I'm in the minority. I happily sit Cars alongside all the other Pixar films that I really love. I'm not here to dissect why a good chunk of the Internet can't stomach the series, I'm just here to say why I love the first film. To me, it's Lasseter's love letter to Americana, lost towns, and car culture. A long-time gearhead, Lasseter based this story on a road trip he took in 2000. That was a year after Toy Story 2's completion, and by this point in his life, Lasseter was overworked and wasn't spending enough time with his family. So he took the trip and along the way, he and his family discovered Route 66 and all of these lost towns and communities. When he came back, the idea for Cars - a replacement of a talking cars project that was on the board before A Bug's Life was in production - grew from there.

Sometimes I'm convinced that if Cars had come out sometime in the early 2000s, it would've been received differently. Long before people began to associate the Pixar name with "hyper imaginative complex epic that relentlessly punches you in the guts with an iron fist." No room for a cartoonier romp in the catalogue it seems.

To everyone who is still frustrated about the world of Cars and how it "makes no sense," it's very simple...

It's not supposed to.

Watch golden era cartoons like Susie the Little Blue Coupe and Little Johnny Jet, and several other toons about anthropomorphic automobiles. Pixar's Cars is a straight-up cartoon. That is not a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with a looser, more humor-based story that doesn't care about its lack of real-world logic. A cartoon can be great, a cartoon can be low-quality. It seems like some people just can't accept a cartoonier Pixar film like this, and would rather prefer if an animation studio of a "lower" status like Blue Sky or Sony Animation made these kinds of movies. Pixar has to stick with making a specific kind of movie. Pixar is obliged to make Inside Out/WALL-E/Ratatouille/Up with each and every film they make.

Not to me. Cars clicked with me when I saw it back in the day. I felt it was executed wonderfully, had great moments, was willing to take its time (the film is Pixar's longest, running nearly two hours), and was indeed a field day for car enthusiasts. It stays the same on repeat viewings.

Now if the execution wasn't to your liking, that's totally understandable. I'm just tired of Cars being inferior because "it's Cars." To me, that's shallow criticism.


It's not fair to call critics "out of touch" or "biased." Film critics are like you and I, they go into these movies expecting something that they will enjoy. No reasonable critic goes into a movie wanting to hate it, nor does one go into it dreading it because it's a kind of movie that they don't care for. Some critics, like a certain individual who wrote for a site called FilmDrunk, fail at this and will openly admit "I hate this kind of movie, so I was dreading this." Just because a legendary music critic specialized in it during the 60s and 70s doesn't mean that the schtick is actually... Well... Admirable. To me, a good critic doesn't go into something hating it... And many critics actually embrace the movies they go into.

A week or two ago, we yet again had to hear about why critics are out of touch with the movies. Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean 5? "Those are made for the fans! Pompous critics, back off!" So what you're saying is... It's okay to shovel lumps of excrement onto fans? As if fans don't have taste or any idea of what makes a good movie or not? Critics, too, are fans. If critics hated superhero movies, none of the Marvel films would've gotten good reviews. There are plenty of dumb blockbusters that have gotten decent, if not good reviews over the years. That is indeed frustrating... Critics are there to say what they feel on the movie, and what you have to say is just as valid. If you liked Baywatch and Pirates 5, fine. If you didn't, also fine. Everyone's voice matters when it comes to entertainment.

That all being said, I still can't help but single out a few "critics" who make statements like "A good Cars movie is still a below-average Pixar movie." The Cars series may not be your cup of tea, that's totally fine... But to say that Cars is in fact is lower-grade Pixar? Quite a bold statement right there.

Regardless of what the all-knowing consensus says, some of us out there happen to find Cars to be worthy of any other Pixar film. Just because the movies star talking cars doesn't mean they are naturally inferior to a movie about talking toys or a movie about your emotions personified. There's no god-written rule or law that says "Thy unholy Cars is inferior!" Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but... a movie to me is only inferior because of how it's executed. Not because of what it is about. Remember that old Roger Ebert saying? "It's not what it's about, it's how it is about it." As if a good-quality Cars movie just simply can't be good... I'm sorry, but statements like those I think are very wrongheaded and only strengthen the arguments of "anti-critic" folks.

A statement like that, honestly, is not dissimilar to a statement that says: "That animated movie is good, but it's not all that good, because it's animated." You know, "That was good... For a cartoon."

Stop that. Any kind of movie can be worthy of being a good movie, regardless of what it is about. Some few look down on superheroes and action movies, refusing to put them on the level of a good drama film or a serious epic. That would be like saying Blazing Saddles "is good... but for a comedy." Blazing Saddles is a great movie, Citizen Kane is a great movie. Both different kinds, but both are equally high-quality works.

A more fair review, to me, would say "Cars 3 is good, but its execution could be much better and that puts it below better Pixar productions." I know, lame... But it's how I prefer it.

Over and out.


  1. I hate reviews that say "It's okay but doesn't reaches Pixar levels" or super positive reviews saying "It's the first Cars movie that feels like a Pixar movie"

  2. I'm probably in the minority here, but my least favorite Pixar film isn't any of the Cars movies. It's Brave. See, even if they didn't have the artistic flair of the other Pixar movies, the Cars movies were at least FUN. Brave didn't even have that. To me it just felt boringly generic--like a warmed-over stereotypical 90s Disney movie, ironically lacking the novelty and adventure its main character wants.

  3. I totally agree. There's just as much heart put into Cars 1 and 3 (and i guess 2 just less sop) as any Pixar production. That's the thing, all Pixar movies have the same effort we've come to love them for.

    Some are better than others but that's bound to happen, they can't all be 10/10.