The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast. Aladdin. The Lion King. These four films alone were released between 1989 and 1994. For all that the modern day Disney/Pixar combo pack gives us, we may never get a five-year stretch of genius like that again. Those four films would go on to help define and shape the little prince I would grow into and the little princess that lived inside me. They put a song in my heart and wonder in my eyes. Disney was releasing powerhouse hit after hit. Since Disney obviously loves money, they had plenty of side hustles. Disney World is one of the more obvious ones whereas direct-to-VHS sequels is not.
5 Ways to Prep: Cars 3
By George Rose
June 15, 2017
At the time, I would laugh in my head when I’d see crappy sequel versions of my beloved classics come out on VHS (and eventually DVD). Aladdin 2: Return of Jafar? Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride? What was this crap? How dare Disney take a steamy wet dump on my childhood! Little did I know, they were actually doing us a favor. Regardless of what Disney forced me to buy or rent on VHS, what they released in theaters was perfect and wonderful. I knew as long as they kept this winning formula of magic and music and royalty, they would rule Hollywood forever.
And then as I turned 10-years-old in 1995, something happened. Me and my body and Disney and my world all seemed to evolve at once. I was no longer a little boy (just a young pre-teen) and Disney was no longer a child of the hand-drawn era. We were both growing up so fast. Technology was also growing at insanely fast rates. In 1995, a new era of cinema was born: CGI animation. Pixar was a budding computer animation company with a three-picture deal through Disney to distribute their films. Toy Story was released as the first under this agreement and I was reminded that even though I thought I was a grown man at 10-years-old I would in fact remain a boy at heart forever.
There were so many movies to see, too! Disney kept making attempts at hand-drawn movies (of declining quality and profit) while Pixar dominated the computer-animated marketplace. Pixar followed up the wild success of Toy Story with A Bug’s Life in 1998, another great film. Pixar was proving they could do anything, and for their next trick they would do something Disney had previously refused to do: a sequel. Disney requested it be a direct-to-DVD release and not part of the three-picture deal. Pixar was like, “Nah, man, we got this. We’re crushing it right now. Even though most sequels suck, we think Toy Story 2 will prove that theory wrong.” Disney cried like babies, but with the contract about to expire, they didn’t want to lose their relationship with Pixar. CGI movies were profitable now and hand-drawn animation was a dying medium. In the end, Pixar won the battle and the sequel hit theaters in 1999.
Toy Story 2 earned almost $500 million worldwide and would go on to become a classic for being one of the best sequels ever. Meanwhile, Disney was releasing flops like Dinosaur, Atlantis and Treasure Planet. Gone were the days of The Lion King. The new millennium was upon us. Pixar proved they were the new king of animation with classics like Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles coming out (reluctantly under the Disney banner) from 2001 to 2004. Do you know what animated turd burger Disney released in 2004? Home on the Range. Do you remember that movie? Me neither. Though Pixar had the brains to win most of the battles, Disney had bank to end the war.
Since it was now another handful of years later, more game-changers were upon us. In 2006, Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 BILLION. The long engagement was over and they were finally married with an ironclad prenup. Hands were held, lines were drawn, and the loveless couple would remain together for the sake of the children. Isn’t that the modern day fairy tale anyway? Their first child was Cars, the ultimate symbol of their union. At 74% positive reviews, it was still a better-reviewed film than most of what animation was offering (thanks, Pixar) but also the worst reviewed film in Pixar’s filmography (thanks, Disney). It became clear that while the newlyweds would share a house they would require separate rooms.
For the next few years (2007-2009), Pixar would reclaim the throne of best animators around (Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up) while Disney would release the final few duds they had in production (Bolt, A Christmas Carol, and The Princess and the Frog). With the Disney/Pixar union proving successful and another few years behind them, Disney was ready to learn from their lessons. In 2009 they saved the world and bought Marvel. With a revamped animation studio and Pixar/Marvel acting as sister wives, Disney was unstoppable. In 2010, Toy Story 3 was released and proved that theory. It was a golden unicorn; not only did it make more than $1 billion but it showed that not all trilogy enders suck (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man and X-Men). Movie lovers rejoice!
Never one to miss out on a senseless grab for cash, 2011 brought us the unthinkable: Cars 2. Toy Story was Pixar’s first true baby and, as a result, it should come as no surprise that it was the only film in their catalog that they had the creativity and/or desire to make further installments of. Even though Cars was Pixar’s only blemish on its resume, it made billions of dollars on merchandising, so Disney demanded another installment. Part sequel, part spy adventure and mostly crapped on by critics (39% positive reviews), Cars 2 is the quintessential example of Disney’s merchandising and marketing prowess. The cars now had missile launchers so more toys could be sold. Despite the reviews and with the help of the growth in international markets and 3D, Cars 2 earned more than the first film. Disney saved face, Pixar shook their heads and both went on to bigger and better things.
In 2012, Disney completed their shopping spree trifecta by purchasing Star Wars. With sequels and reboots and relaunches all the rage, it became clear Hollywood was on a downward spiral with regards to creativity. If not for international markets, most films these days would be outright bombs and financial losers. To avoid this fate, Disney now owned three of the most guaranteed creators of profitable content: Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. All these outlets were bringing boatloads of money to the table and put Disney back on top. Starting in 2012, the next few cartoons to come out of their cannon brought them back to early ‘90s glory: Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana.
And in classic ‘90s fashion, Disney ran the side-hustle game to no end. With direct-to-DVD movies dying off and sequels/spin-offs all the rage, Disney quietly released Planes in 2013 and Planes: Fire & Rescue in 2014. Even though the Planes looked and talked like the Cars, Pixar had no part in this. Both were horribly reviewed but were made on a fraction of the Cars budget so they were profitable, even though neither earned more than $100 million domestically. They kept the Cars merchandising machine alive so they were ultimately worthwhile, despite reeking of bitter desperation. A handful of Pixar releases (Brave, Monsters University, Inside Out, Finding Dory) and a handful of years later, Pixar and Disney are riding high and hope they can keep that quality rolling with the release of Cars 3.
As of now, Cars 3’s reviews are wobbling right around that of the first Cars. This is better than Cars 2 but not on the current quality level that Pixar and Disney are capable of. Considering the Cars franchise is probably one of the largest contributing factors in the discord between Disney and Pixar, it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise it feels like the final attempt at taking what cash they can from the few that ever cared for these films. 3D doesn’t excite people anymore, and there are no countries left to discover and force-feed Hollywood fodder to. The Toy Story trilogy kept increasing in profits because of consistent quality ($373 million worldwide, then $497 million, then $1 billion). Even though Cars 1 & 2 look similar in their growth ($462 million, then $562 million), it’s unreasonable to think Cars 3 will make $1 billion.
The quality isn’t there, there is no new 4D novelty and there are no foreign planets yet to sell Hollywood cinema to. Sorry, folks, $1 billion is just not gonna happen. While I can’t help Disney or Pixar prepare for how to handle the emotional loss of failing yet again to reach $1 billion (Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 haven’t been able to do it), maybe I can help you prepare for how to enjoy Cars 3. So hop in, adjust your chair, put on your seatbelt and get ready to rev up for 5 Ways to Prep!
1) Cars (2006)
Unlike most trilogies, Cars seems to be a franchise that focuses more on needless sequels rather than an overlying story arc over the course of three movies. Cars took us to the world of Radiator Springs, a small town off of Route 66 that is home to talking cars. This is where a NASCAR-type celebrity racer hides away and learns to appreciate the small things in life and blah blah blah. Cars 2 gives the cars weapons and a pointless spy plot and probably has very little to do with Cars 3, which is meant to take the few viewers left that care back to where Cars began: the race track. Main man Lightning McQueen is a washed up racer now and must prove he still matters before he ages his way into retirement. Sounds like a metaphor for the franchise, right? You probably only need to watch the first Cars to have an understanding of what this world has to offer and I don’t imagine you’ll need much more than the most basic of imaginations (okay, cars that talk, got it) to be able to watch Cars 3.
2) Toy Story 3 (2010)
Watching an Oscar winning film like this might not be the best way to help you enjoy the car crash that Cars 3 is expected to be, but it is a great way to help you fully understand what Disney and Pixar are capable of if they care enough to try. Pixar’s bread and butter is making things that can’t talk do just that. They made fish talk, dinosaurs talk, robots, dogs, monsters… everything talks and feels things and it’s amazing. Pixar is amazing. Talking toys are amazing. Toy Story 3 is amazing.
Pixar has mastered emotional manipulation and I still cry every time I watch the end of Toy Story 3. Part sequel, part super rare amazing trilogy ender, part prison escape movie, Toy Story 3 teaches viewers how to let go of their childhood past and grow up. It’s about love, loss, family and friendship; these are things Disney and Pixar know well and have gone through together. Toy Story 3 is the fruit of the Disney/Pixar birth and breakup and wedding vow renewal ceremony. It makes everything they put us through worth the adventure and was the start of a very promising (and permanent) future together.
3) Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
As a geek, I love many things. Movies are obviously #1 and Disney (with control over Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars) is my #1 studio. Then there are the entertainment mediums that produce mini versions of movies, like television and video games. What makes video games so amazing is the interactive portion of the process (meaning you get to play them). They are so much fun and another benefit of being born in 1985 is that I got to grow up with the evolution of video games, from the original Nintendo all the way up to my current Xbox One. After the underrated and exceptional debut of Disney’s revamped CGI animation studio in 2010 with Tangled, their second release was Wreck-It Ralph, which was set in the world of video games.
They took what worked with Pixar (unexpected things that talk and feel) and lessons learned from the lame Cars franchise (a good story people care about) and released this amazing, superb blend of animation, video games, feelings and childhood nostalgia. When Ralph, a villain, leaves his game so he can become a hero, he disrupts the world order and could potentially unleash total destruction onto all the games of the arcade. I won’t ruin any more of the plot, but I will say that part of the story finds itself in a car racing video game, where much of the colorful action takes place. Pixar has proved they are master storytellers and Disney has proved they can handle intense and colorful car racing action. There really is no excuse why the Cars films haven’t been great but maybe that will change with Cars 3.
4) Rocket League (Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC)
Not every way to prep for a movie is with another movie. Sometimes the best way to prep is by watching a TV show (especially if that show is getting a movie of its own), sometimes it’s a book (books become movies all the time) and sometimes it’s a video game (games become movies all the time even though most suck). Just like video games tend to make terrible movies, movies tend to make terrible video games so I won’t be recommending any games from the Cars franchise. However, if you want to live in a world where all the drivers of all the cars can talk to each other, there is no better world right now than Rocket League.
The game is basically soccer with cars. You drive around, hit a ball and score goals. My favorite feature in the game is playing Rumble, which is when the cars have weapons. Even though that means the game is closer to Cars 2 (so stupid) than Cars 1 or hopefully Cars 3, it actually reminds me of playing Mario Kart’s Battle Mode (so amazing). Log online, plug in your headset, talk to your friends while you play, and blast the hell out of each other while having some healthy competition. Go buy the game and replace the cover insert with that of the Cars 2 DVD and pretend this game is the second film in the franchise. It’s a great way to spend time with your friends and family, and that delirious level of enjoyment might just help you see Cars 3 in the happier, more forgiving mindset needed after Cars 2 crapped the bed.
5) Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
Not all bad movies are awful. Back in the day, summer movie season was all about bad movies being just big and loud enough to still be awesome. Or maybe that was me just being a stupid young kid. Regardless, I still find pleasure in bad movies, and I’m hoping that Cars 3 (currently 69% positive out of 29 reviews) is less silly like Cars 2 and more a mild attempt at a story like Cars 1. If it can be at least as good as Cars 1, then we have to call Cars 3 a massive winner. The higher the expectations, the lower the reward when it comes to Cars. No producer is better at making wild, amazing, action-packed nonsense out of summer movies than Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Boys, The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.) and no film of his is more car-centric than Gone in 60 Seconds.
The younger brother of a famed car thief messes up a job and in exchange for his life, Nicolas Cage must steal 50 cars in one night. Angelina Jolie has the worst dreadlocks in film history, the dialogue is laughably bad and the action wouldn’t remotely impress the Fast and Furious franchise. With only 24% positive reviews, it was even more critically slammed than the worst that the Cars franchise has yet to offer us (unless you count Planes). Yet somehow, by the grace of God, I was not only able to enjoy Gone in 60 Seconds, I actually loved it. It’s one of those fun, mindless movies that’s easy to watch, with a likeable cast and entertaining action. If you can learn to love this movie as I have, there’s a chance you can get through Cars 3 with a smile on your face.
There you have it, your 5 Ways to Prep for the movie letdown of the season. I’m just kidding. That title belongs to Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (I guess Disney and Bruckheimer aren’t invincible). I’d much rather watch the worst of what Pixar has to offer than most of the attempts at quality the other studios fail to entertain me with. Cars 3 is currently considered critically better than Cars 2, so the studio has already scored a win in my book. Check back next week to see how you can prep for Transformers 5 (because fifth-quels need all the help they can get these days) and, until then, enjoy Cars 3 if you can.