Sunday, 26 June 2011

Will Cars 2 Hurt The Pixar Brand?

Cars 2 is the first Pixar film ever certified rotten on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes (33% at time of writing). This is a big deal for a company who for the last 16 years has been known for delivering high quality films.
Pixar Logo
Cars 2 (in my opinion) goes against everything Pixar stands for, this is a company that use to continually repeat “story is king”. Everything starts with a great story, filled with great characters and when they believe in it they make the movie. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Cars 2, so will this change of principles eventually hurt the Pixar brand?

If you look at the original Cars film, the need for a sequel is not even justified (on a purely story/movie basis), not only is it regarded as one of Pixar’s weakest films (by reviewers and audiences alike) it didn’t make huge amounts of money at the box office (compared to other Pixar films) either.

What the first film did do however was sell a ton of merchandise, and therefore it’s pretty obvious that the reason Cars 2 was green-lit is as a vehicle to sell a load more toys. Financially and from a business perspective this makes a lot of sense. But I’m not talking about making money in the short-term, I’m arguing that Cars 2 will potentially tarnish Pixar’s pristine brand in the long-term.

You see a brand is something customers (in this case audiences) trust and believe in. The Pixar brand promises original and quality story-telling, which again I would argue is why Pixar is one of the few studios that are able to create financially successful films out of new and unknown properties. The Pixar name is the equivalent of having a big movie star or director sign on for your film; audiences automatically assume it’s good because “they” don’t make bad films.

The movie business relies on audience goodwill, that’s why big summer blockbuster sequels have huge opening weekends (even when they get terrible reviews) because people go to see them based on the quality of the previous one. In Pixar’s case it doesn’t have to be a sequel, the Pixar name itself carries the goodwill.

Cars 2 seems to be the first film they’ve dropped the ball and gone against their values. Yes, I know they’ve done sequels before with Toy Story but they were films that audiences loved and wanted to see a sequel. I’ve never heard anyone see the first Cars film and say “I hope they make a second one.” I’d say the only other property they’ve got that naturally lends itself to a sequel (and that people want) is The Incredibles.

I’m not saying Pixar is no longer making great films, but if audiences begin to think that they are no longer purely focused on making original quality films and they are also willing to make movies with finance being the primary motivation, this will hurt their brand in the long-term as audiences begin to lose faith.

Every film needs to be make money (or more importantly profit) and it would stupid to think otherwise. But with Pixar you believed it was about telling great stories first that made a profit, rather than making a lot of money with an average movie. Now loads of movie studios do that, and that’s great, but Pixar is a premium brand in the movie business and I hope they don’t forget this. The films they choose to make (and more importantly choose NOT to make) reflect on and sustain that brand name.

Do you agree?

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