Cars is probably the closest thing Pixar has had to a critical flop.
It isn’t, obviously. Its Rotten Tomatoes score of 74 per cent is far from awful, but seeing as all of its other 11 movies have scored over 90 per cent (Toy Story 1 and 2 managed 100 per cent), it’s probably the one film that Pixar marks as ‘could do better’.
But there’s just one catch. Since its 2006 launch Cars has generated almost $10bn in retail sales alone – and gone down a treat with children.
“It wasn’t really expected to be something that big,” says Jay Ward, Pixar’s ‘franchise guardian’ for Cars.“When the first film came out we had a small initial offering of toys and some related things, and then this world of Cars kept growing beyond the life of the film. Then the DVD came out and it got bigger again. This world of Cars kept growing for years after the movie came out. It was pretty amazing.”
GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE
It’s Ward’s job to make sure the Cars brand is represented as it should be on duvet covers, on lunch boxes, in theme parks and, of course, in video games.
“Cars is unique in the size of the scope of the franchise,” he says. “We have never had a person in-house at Pixar that does what I do now.
“If something is related to Cars it needs to have the same level of quality and care and concern that we put into the movie. And if it doesn’t then it dilutes the whole thing, so we are pretty careful.”
Since the 2006 movie there has been five Cars games (including a free-to-play MMO), not to mention the incoming Cars 2 movie tie-in. The game is a key component to Pixar’s merchandise plan, and the studio behind last year’s hit Toy Story 3 game – Avalanche Software – is on development duties yet again. With Ward, of course, keeping a close eye on things.
“I have done a lot of work with Avalanche,” says Ward. “The studio is very respectful of the Cars property and doesn’t want to do anything that lets us down from a Pixar standpoint in terms of quality. So the team was really good about working back and forth and making sure we were good with it.
“The challenge in the Cars world is that yes, these are cars, but they are also characters. They have personalities. In your typical driving game you are just looking at the back of your car for the whole time. So the challenge was getting the face time with the Cars in there.
“You will notice in the next game lots of opportunities where the camera spins round and you can see the front of the car. “And you will see the character’s expression as you drive along. That was a big thing I pushed with the team at Avalanche.”
Cars was very much an American film, but the upcoming movie takes place around the globe. It gives the movie a much larger audience in which to sell toys, games and merchandise to. Both Disney and Pixar are confident that Cars this year will eclipse what Toy Story managed last year, and that’s generated in excess of $2.5bn.
Pixar isn’t known for doing things for commercial reasons. 2009’s Up was a heart-wrenching story of an old man who had lost his wife. Hardly a money-spinner. But with Cars the studio has been accused of ‘selling out’. So is Cars 2 nothing more than just a glorified advert to sell toys?
“It has to be a movie first,” says Ward. “It has to tell a great story. These things are only related to it and worth doing if people see the movie. If you don’t do a great movie then none of it means anything.”