Pixar’s Only Critically Panned Movie – What Happened?

Since hitting a home run with Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has been on top of the world. Movie after movie has earned rave reviews from critics and audiences alike – with one glaring exception. The only Pixar movie to ever receive a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes is Cars 2, released in 2011 (the film received a whopping 39%). So what happened?

Cars was only the second Pixar film to get a sequel (the first being Toy Story), so the concept itself was new to Pixar audiences. Though execs have denied this, many fans believed parent company Disney forced the studio to make a sequel for the merchandising profit. Before the film was ever released, many audiences decided it was a problem.

Whether or not the studio pressure speculation is true, one thing was clear: this movie didn’t have the usual Pixar secret sauce. Here were some of the consistent complaints from critics:

  • Boring, basic storytelling without the typical Pixar nuance and twists
  • Tried to do too much – made the film erratic and lacking flow
  • General mediocrity, from character development to plot to emotional resonance

In short, the film was just “ok”…which is a nightmare for Pixar, a studio who’s films define animation standards. Fans of the first film found the second boring and unnecessary, and fans that were skeptical of the first film hated the second.

In fact, the movie’s critical reception spooked the studio. The New York Times reported that morale hit an all time low, and Pixar did not attempt another sequel for another six years. And the new sequel was Cars 3, an attempt to redeem the franchise and erase the bad taste Cars 2 left in fan’s mouths. It seemed to work, with audiences and critics liking the third installment much better than the previous sequel.

So, what does Cars 2 teach us about sequels? A sequel for the sake of a sequel isn’t enough to win over audiences, even for a beloved franchise. The film has to stand on its own – serve as its own unique story with feeling and depth. Maybe some audiences are ok with fluff to keep the merchandising flowing – but Pixar fans are not among them.

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