This weekend, Cars 2 premieres nationwide and is slated to be Disney’s biggest film of the year. With Hangover 2 currently the highest-grossing film of the year, at more than $215 million (and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides surprisingly just behind it at $208 million), it might be the biggest film of the year, if not one of the biggest (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has yet to arrive).
Lightning McQueen meet and greet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Show business is first about entertainment. Second, it’s a business. Yet, for all the reasons we like to call it a business, and for all of the quantitative, data-gathering efforts pencil pushers give in Hollywood, studios really have no clue when they approve a film as to whether it will be successful or not. That’s why sequels (like most of the big hitters this summer) are appealing and so often green-lit. They seem like a much better bet.
Sequels can be great if they further the world created in the original; if they stay true to the first film; if it helps you to know the characters and the world they live in more deeply; if it stays consistent to the success of the first film, while taking its own twists and turns that makes the sequel stand on its own.
Pixar offers one of the greatest success stories of all sequels. Toy Story 2 (No. 3 at the 1999 box office) and Toy Story 3 (No. 1 in last year’s box office) have been among the best set of sequels ever made for what was an original and pioneering blockbuster. People can argue whether they liked any of the Star Wars or Indiana Jones sequels. But many people, including myself, think that the sequels for Toy Story might have been even better than the original.
This article isn’t about whether Cars 2 will be successful. It might not be as critically acclaimed as Finding Nemo or other Pixar films, but it will be a box office success. Rather, this is about what I like to call “promotional entourage.”
Luigi and Guido are part of McQueen’s entourage. But we’re talking something different here. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
A successful movie provides not only a sequel, but an entourage of promotion, marketing, and merchandise. It’s everything but the movie. There’s nothing wrong with building the brand. And let’s not miss the reality that this film might not have been given the go ahead if it wasn’t known in advance that the previous film was a merchandise blockbuster. I commented in a previous article that Cars had done some $8 billion in sales, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Merchandise from a D23 exhibit for Cars. It’s sandwiched among two other major brands and their promotional entourage. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
So I fully expected to see Cars merchandise every time I headed into a Target store. But while watching a television show the other night, I was surprised that there was a Cars State Farm commercial. At first it seemed like a commercial for the movie. But when your State Farm agent rolled out to repair the situation, you knew this was not quite Cars.
Added to this are promotions with Kellogg’s, Kimberly-Clark and even Perdue. Apparently “It’s a Race to the Dinner Table” when Cars is promoting your chicken nuggets.
Then the Department of Transportation came out with their PSA called “Only The Bad Guys.” This clip promotes not calling or texting while driving. Here Mater himself is used to draw attention to the fact that in 2009, 5,474 people were killed in the United States in motor vehicle crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving.
I can imagine some child headed to school turning to their mom and telling her what a “bad guy” she is, since she was on the phone talking to someone while driving. I thought the title of “bad guy” belonged to bandits and robbers, not soccer moms.
The headquarters for a Disney promotional entourage is a Disney theme park. Make no mistake: You can’t be at Walt Disney World and not know that there’s a film coming out this summer about Cars. It started with the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. Both Lightning McQueen and Mater showed up late for the event, but they are still there at the Winner’s Circle.
Mater in blossom at Epcot. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
I suggested back in May that Cars could easily show up at “Lights! Motors! Action!” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland Paris. I wasn’t aware that at the Disneyland Paris shareholder meeting back in March they had already announced that for Disneyland Paris show. Then, it was finally announced this month that it would be coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photosmagiques offers a view of what that looks like in Paris. I hope there are some changes—namely speed—to the version at the Studios.
I’m excited to see Cars head into this attraction, which has failed to draw attention from guests. Its attendance has plummeted to two shows a day, while The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular still pulls off some half-dozen shows a day. My only disappointment is that it looks like the one thing I really enjoyed in the show, namely Herbie the Love Bug, will soon be moving out.
Herbie the Love Bug—half the car he used to be! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
If you’re as old as me you may remember that Herbie was huge back in 1969. Some remember the Summer of ’69 as “the best days of my life.” True to form, if you were there just like the Bryan Adams song says about being at the drive-in. That drive-in was probably playing The Love Bug, as it was that year’s biggest box office hit.
Dean Jones credits Walt Disney with the success of the The Love Bug, noting that it was one of the last scripts Disney approved of prior to his death in December 1966. If only Herbie had a promotional entourage. Back then you could barely find much more than a book, record, and a model kit. Today, there are more people probably working just to promote Cars than there were to create the original Love Bug movie.
At Walt Disney World you can still find Herbie at Disney’s All-Star Resort. But if guests staying at Walt Disney World want more of a Cozy Cone type of experience, they only have to wait until 2012 before Cars becomes a cornerstone to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. Along with The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and The Little Mermaid. Why do those films get to be part of the Art of Animation Resort? Well, the one thing all four have in common is the size of their promotional entourage.
Artist’s rendition of what the Cars portion of the Art of Animation Resort will look like. Image © Disney.
Of course, this is nothing compared to what’s coming to Disney California Adventure next year. We’ve had attractions based on Disney and Pixar films. And some Disney/Pixar films have had several rides and attractions created in their honor. But an entire land? This is practically the closest thing to creating an entire theme park based on one film.
Artist’s rendering of what Carsland will look like. Image © Disney.
The only thing to compare to it is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure. That investment was responsible for a more than 30 percent rise in attendance at the Universal park. But just wait until Carsland opens. It, along with the other offerings ranging from World of Color to Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, will make the rise in attendance phenomenally dramatic—and long sustaining.
I don’t think we quite understand how Carsland will be remembered 45 years from now the same way we remembered Pirates of the Caribbean when it first opened in 1966. And that attraction didn’t have a movie backing it up, much less a promotional entourage.
Yes, when it comes to promotional entourage, we may never see anything quite like Cars.
What do you think? Are you excited for Cars? Do you like the promotional entourage? Does it further your interest in seeing the movie, or is it a turn off? Let us know.
Meanwhile we’ll see you at the movies—I mean Cars 2.