We took our son to see Cars 2 this weekend, and if he hadn’t been so in love with the first outing of Lightning McQueen and Mater, and so eager to see this next installment, we would have walked out within the first five minutes.
The first Cars movie, though probably the weakest effort from Pixar, was still a family friendly movie, with a story that even adults could appreciate. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m not a NASCAR or racing fan by any stretch of the imagination. I barely know how to change the oil on my own car. But Cars had real characters, animated or not, and a rather engaging little story. (Plus, it had Paul Newman.) And that’s truly why Pixar’s efforts have been critically successful up until this point. Their animation prowess is only a nice side note.
Cars 2 mysteriously deviated from this path, however. Instead it became this strange hybrid of a James Bond movie and the Fast and the Furious. The opening scene includes missile fire, gunfire, large shark-like battleships, and cars (who are the quasi-human characters in these movies) meeting their fiery deaths in terrific explosions. And the violence didn’t let up until the closing credits.
Now, as I grapple with the fact that I’ve exposed my young son to this type of movie, I’m also keenly aware of why Cars 2 is nothing like the first: Disney acquired Pixar in January 2006.
Granted, Pixar has produced some fine films since then, including Up, WALL-E, and Toy Story 3. But none of them had the merchandising power of Cars. The toys are everywhere, and despite modest box-office receipts for the first movie, following in George Lucas’ footsteps with toys galore, paid off. They more than made up for the poor box office. So it’s no surprise that Disney wanted a second movie.
We also live in the age of the 3-D movie. Hence, all the explosions and seemingly unnecessary missile fire. Clearly, a corporate decision. Disney wanted a movie that worked in this format even though the first installment would not have. (And despite the fact that 3-D glasses are inappropriate for more than half the potential audience.)
So instead of a movie with a story and well-rounded characters, we have a violent, largely unfunny mess of a movie that is inappropriate, in my opinion, for any kid under the age of ten.
How does this relate to publishing? In case you haven’t noticed, the world of movies and book publishing are more closely intertwined than ever before. Though I haven’t read the Hunger Games series, my wife and many of my friends have just finished them. And it only took a millisecond for them to start production on the movie versions (right here in our backyard of Asheville, NC). When book publishing decisions are made by corporate entities, some of the major factors that come into play are ticket sales and merchandising potential, not character or plot development.
That’s why I believe that independent publishers are still the future, and the best hope, for the publishing industry. Because they know that a good book doesn’t necessarily need to blow things to bits in 3-D.