Say what you want about the cinematic quality of Cars 2, but it’s making money. Lots of money. The latest Pixar installment made $68 million its opening weekend – and that was just in ticket sales. That $68 million doesn’t even reflect what consumers have already spent on Cars merchandise.
The original Cars movie made $460 million in theaters, but it’s sold over $2 billion of merchandise per year since its release in 2006. Therefore, it’s no wonder that both merchandising experts and Disney executives expect Cars merchandise to surpass the $2.8 billion that Toy Story 3 merchandise made last year. And who would disagree? Licensed Cars products have exploded over retail stores within the last month. Through the Cars franchise, Disney has found the male equivalent to the Disney Princess franchise. From Cheez-Its to guitars to understandably, die cast cars, the Cars characters can be found on just about any product you can imagine.
When I went to see the movie this past weekend (the only audience member between the ages of 9 and 30), almost every single kid present was wearing some sort of Cars apparel: t-shirts, Crocs, and even one kid that I bet just rolled out of bed in his Lightning McQueen pajamas. The one girl not wearing Cars apparel clutched a stuffed Mater.
The studio will make a killing on the licensed products and cross promotion from the film. Before even seeing the previews, my theater was treated to a long series of commercials for other companies like Huffy and Purdue Farms coasting on the Cars brand. The commercial for Target did not surprise me since the retail giant is the film’s official merchandise partner and neither did the commercial for State Farm set in the Cars universe as I had seen it on network TV already. What did surprise me was Mater singing the State Farm jingle smack dab in the middle of the movie. I already knew that the movie was tied to multiple outside brands, but I honestly didn’t expect to see those brands end up in the movie itself.
Before we set up our soapboxes and accuse Disney of selling out (again), I do have to give credit to Pixar for not turning the film into an all-out brand war. Because what else is racing? It’s a bunch of drivers racing around a track with as many logos as possible slapped onto their cars and suits. If wanted, I bet that Disney wouldn’t have had a problem filling their CG cars with real world logos. Instead, they stuck to the made up brands of Rust-eze medicated bumper ointment and Lightyear tires.
So was Cars 2 made simply to move merchandise? Highly possible, even if the Disney executives say that the franchise continuation was secondary. But was it still an enjoyable film? Absolutely. The plot may not have inspired, but it was entertaining, fun, and all-around likable. There was a soft ode to the late Paul Newman and plenty of clever car puns (like the Popemobile riding in an even bigger Popemobile) sprinkled throughout.
But even with lukewarm reviews on Cars 2, it looks like Pixar might be running with the “sequels to expand the franchise” idea. Earlier this week, Tom Hanks spilled that there is a high possibility for a Toy Story 4. As a self-proclaimed Disneyphile, I’m interested, but curious if Disney is simply capitalizing on a popular franchise. Toy Story 3 had a concrete ending that gave satisfied closure to the characters; I really don’t see a need to send them on yet another adventure. But if Disney has their eye on the bottom line, it’s likely that in a few summers we’ll have our chance to see another potentially heart-warming epic coupled with new merchandise.
Whether we like it or not, I have a feeling that movies for the sake of merchandise are here to stay. After all, with the exception of Ryan Reynolds’ abs, what else would prompt Warner Bros. to make a sequel to The Green Lantern?
What did you think of Cars 2? Do you feel that movie merchandise boosts the appeal of so-so films?