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Pixar's Cars Is Seriously Underrated

Cars - Doc Hudson and Lightning McQueen

Cars Is The Only Pixar Film Just For Kids

No two ways around it, Cars was different. The majority of the early Pixar classics were conceived over the course of one now legendary lunch in the wake of Toy Story's success; John Lasseter and his core team of founding animators sat down and before the check came developed the pitches for A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Cars wasn't the first film not to come from that meeting - The Incredibles, originally started at Warner Bros., followed Nemo - but it was the first where the idea was less a group-honed creative and more personal vision: after Toy Story 2, Lasseter realized he'd spent the better part of a decade making movies and not seeing his kids, so went on a road trip with his family. This tapped into his love of vehicles and showed him the forgotten wonders of Route 66, sparking the idea for his next movie.

Because of these personal origins, the film took shape in an unexpected form; tied into Lasseter's family - specifically his youngest son, born in 1997 - much more so than his previous films, it skewed younger in terms of tone and message. And therein is the cause of everything that's happened since; It's a purer children's film than the generation-crossing rest of Pixar's output, so was naturally going to have less adult appeal. But just because that makes it different shouldn't take away from the fact that as a kid's version of Doc Hollywood it's very effective. It's well-made, well-cast, brightly designed, fun to follow and features an effective moral; an entire generation will learn Rocky's going the distance from Lightning McQueen.

Many accept Cars as what we've just described, but the perceived lack of something more (and the fact that some elements, such as Mater, are intrinsically poor) is often used as a reason to leave it in average-at-best territory. So what if Route 66 closed? That matters naught to the majority of adults. And who hasn't seen the sporting wunderkind story a dozen or more times? But the truth is that it still has a strong emotional core beyond those elements. This is a movie for the Lasseters; John is Lightning, his family the forgotten Radiator Springs and the Piston Cup creative success. He's explaining to himself and his young children what really matters in life.

Cars 2 Reputation Dominates The Franchise

Cars 2 - Tow Mater and Lightning McQueen

In terms of why Cars is underrated, though, probably the biggest nail in the coffin came with Cars 2. This was the movie where the studio's unprecedented run of form came crashing to an end - the film was a moderate success financially and savaged by fans and critics alike - and because many of its issues are rooted in threads from the first film it led to the original getting an even rougher ride. This is purely for kids to the point it lacks strong narrative coherence, using brightly colored antics in snazzy locales that will only blind those under the age of six.

Like the first film, the sequel came from Lasseter's very unique standpoint. Sadly, here the director's highly involved stance led to him steering into the wrong elements; he's stated the main drive for Cars 2 was imagining how different characters would act while doing the original film's international press tour - this is why Cars 2 centers so much of the action on Mater - letting his own investment blind him to the film's actual strengths and weaknesses.

But that shouldn't color the original. That this film was expanding already controversial elements and wound up so derided is often used as shorthand for Cars' failure as a franchise, but it's really a separate result. With positive attention coming to the threequel, though, it's hopeful that a redemption of Cars is slowly accelerating.

Next: Cars 3 Star Explains Pixar’s Formula for Success

Key Release Dates
  • Cars 3 (2017) release date: Jun 16, 2017
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