Allow me to explain to you why Cars 2 might forever be known as your first real “flop.”
Some people thought that it was inevitable – that it was just a matter of time before you did something less than extraordinary. You have had one of the most incredibly successful run of releases going all the way back to your first full-length feature film in 1995’s Toy Story. With each new film it appeared that you could do no wrong, following up each critical and financial success with another. What’s more is you have continued to raise the bar for filmmaking practices in general, not just with computer animated family fare. You have become the yardstick to which all storytelling of your ilk must be measured, but it appears the time come when you have finally failed to measure up to yourself.
The movie that makes me say such things is Cars 2, which is your first picture to actually fail to meet the type of expectations that have come standard with your brand. With only a 36% approval rating from critics according to RottenTomatoes.com, and only $153 million in domestic grosses after almost three weeks in theaters, Cars 2 appears to have failed in enthusing many of its usually plentiful supporters. What is perhaps more surprising than the domestic grosses are the earnings from foreign markets, which usually far exceed domestic numbers but have so far yielded only $121 million. Combined together Cars 2 has earned over $274 million worldwide, which to your credit can hardly be considered a failure for most films. However, with a production budget of $200 million that means the movie’s two most lucrative weekends have earned only a 137% return, which is I’m sure much smaller than what you and Disney were hoping for. With the continuing decrease in earnings and interest, Cars 2 will likely fail to earn $350 million worldwide, which will be your least lucrative release ever and a far cry from last summer’s Toy Story 3 which eventually ended up with global earnings surpassing $1 billion.
What we have to ask ourselves now is why Cars 2 has become the movie we both denied to know would come. It isn’t because it’s a sequel since you have beaten the sequel myth not only once but twice. What the reason could actually be is what many critics have suggested, which is that the inertia carrying the production of the film is mostly a commercial hunger than an itch to realize an inspired story. As you know the original Cars earned a respectable $244 million domestically ($120 million budget) and $462 million globally, which is far from record-breaking, but the rewards reaped from promotional contracts and merchandising made it your most profitable film to date. Congratulations. And I have to say, continuing the Toy Story franchise makes sense on one level because the first installment earned you the status of legitimate Hollywood studio and haven for creativity, but the best thing people said about Cars, though it was generally well-received, was that it looked impressively pretty. The story wasn’t poor but it wasn’t anything especially memorable either, and to make that franchise the only other one of yours that has a sequel makes it obvious that money was more on the brain than creativity.
On the merchandizing point it is worth stating the obvious to say that such merchandise was geared almost exclusively to children. So, if the impetus to make Cars 2 stems from a desire to sell more of this kind of merchandise it makes sense to gear the movie primarily towards this demographic. But even though all of your films can be deemed kid friendly the most successful one (Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, WALL·E, Up) are the kind that appeal to audiences of all ages and nearly every demographic. Limiting Cars 2 to being chiefly a money grab aimed at children (or rather the parents of children) means that audiences of other ages and familial makeups are ignored. What Disney and you have found out is that those ignored demographics constitute just as big a percentage of your typical audience as children do, if not bigger.
Going forward we can hope that the underwhelming Cars 2 proves to Disney, who no doubt spurred the development of the film, that while your name is worth quite a lot to audiences around the world it is only worth that much because your films are known to be made for everyone. There are few movie franchises throughout history that have incredibly wide-ranging appeal, and you are the only studio to earn that kind of popularity for each of its films – safe for their most recent. For the sake of holding the mantle you created for yourself, as well as the good will that audiences have grown eager to give you, you must get back to making movies for everyone, not just kids.
On that note, good luck with Monsters University.
A devoted but concerned admirer