It's a little strange to think of a Pixar movie as not being universally loved, even by critics. Even the studio's sequels are wildly acclaimed, with reviewers discussing how Toy Story 3 brought them to tears, but it looks like Cars 2, hitting theaters tomorrow, might break their winning streak.
Right now, the film is at a 37% approval rating on film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, hands down the lowest rating ever for a Pixar film. There have been Pixar films that would have received a perfect 100% on the site if it weren't for one or two bad reviews (semi-famously, former Star movie critic Phil Villarreal was one of two critics to screw up Wall-E's perfect score). There are critics giving the film a positive review, but there are quite a few prominent writers who, like New York Times critic A.O. Scott, are not thrilled by the sequel's focus on supposedly charming hick, Tow Mater:
Mostly, though, there is Mater, who tags along with Lighting on the grand prix circuit before falling in with the secret agents. Through it all, he talks and talks and talks, mangling idioms and missing the point in an exaggerated drawl that would make even the cast of “Hee-Haw” wince. As if to prove that certain groups have escaped the protection of political correctness, the Southern-fried Mater is dumb, excitable and puppy-dog loyal, his idiot-savant automotive expertise grounded in humble, blue-collar simplicity. I doubt anyone will protest much, but Pixar has now found its redneck Jar-Jar Binks. Such a proud moment.
In the end, maybe it doesn't really matter if Cars 2 is actually good or not. Disney will certainly make a bazillion dollars from the movie and the wave of merchandise that accompanies it, and the core audience (which includes my two kids) couldn't be more excited and it's not like my nine year old son consulted the New York Times to see if he really wanted to spend all week bugging me about the film's release date. For me, if the movie's terrible, it's just disappointing. One thing you could count on from Pixar is that they'd make movies that my entire family would enjoy while managing not to be just a two hour ad for a line of toys. A four year run of movies I genuinely loved as films (Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3), a stinker was bound to emerge eventually, right?
See our review in next Thursday's issue to find out whether the Weekly ends up being one of the lone voices in the wilderness enjoying the movie or whether we kick Cars 2 while it's down.