The June issue of Wired has a snarky take on Cars and its merchandising (p. 112 – doesn’t appear to be online).
The toys are hot sellers, of course. Of the film, writer Neal Pollack says:
Cars, which is essentially an animated automotive Doc Hollywood, doesn’t quite hold up against Pixar’s Oscar-winning blockbusters like Up and Wall-E, or even the Toy Story series.
For sheer artistic heft, sure, Wall-E is a grander achievement than Cars. But I’m drawing the line at the Toy Story series for a simple reason: Cars is less maudlin than most kids films.
We know the basic formula — the protagonists are separated from loved ones and either work their way back (2 1/2 of the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo) or complete the circle of life (Bambi, The Lion King). The films either pull successfully at your heartstrings, skate through the drama in lighthearted fashion (the equally underrated The Aristocats) or sink in a dreary mess (Dinosaur).
Cars is a welcome change. We aren’t driven to tears by Lightning McQueen’s disappearance. We’re saddened to learn how lonely Radiator Springs has become, but it’s no reason to be despondent. The drama comes from the humbling change in Lightning McQueen’s life.
So Cars is less likely to make your toddler (or worse, the parents) weep. That doesn’t mean it’s flimsier fare. If you’re looking for educational value, the messages of humility and community in Cars are a bit better than “Hold on to your toys or they’ll be really sad!”
And the lack of emotional trauma means you can watch the film again. And again. And again. And … maybe that’s a little much. But it’s certainly more than you could stand with one of the Toy Story films.