Disney hosted a big shindig Monday at New York City’s Chelsea Piers, just blocks away from the Javits Center, where the 2011 American International Toy Fair is under way. Like the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides-focused gathering a few weeks ago, attending guests from the media, along with a select group of D23 fans, got an early glimpse of what to expect from the Cars 2 merchandise train.
Whatever your thoughts might be on the Pixar films, it’s hard to argue that Cars isn’t a brilliant marriage of merchandising concepts. Matchbox cars have been enduringly popular for more than 50 years among young children and older collectors alike. With the Cars brand you have the opportunity to give each vehicle a unique personality, upping the value for kids while throwing in a new wrinkle for collectors.
There will be big cars and small cars, remote-controlled ones and electronics-free ones, race tracks, collector pieces, variety packs, a multi-platform video game, even a specially redesigned Monopoly game. Perhaps the coolest of the new toys is a Matchbox-sized Lightning McQueen called “Lightning McQueen Alive” that sports a moving mouth and a soundboard of catchphrases from the film. It can also drive around on its own, move its eyes and even shrug. The body movements obviously aren’t as fluid as what you see in the movies, but it’s quite an impressive technical achievement, cramming all of that functionality into a toy car that fits into the palm of your hand … and keeping it reasonably affordable at $59.99 (includes a charging station, mocked up to look like a gas station).
Lightning McQueen Alive aside, the biggest news from Disney’s Cars 2 event for you Spinoff readers really revolves around the movie itself. A great deal more was revealed about how the story will unfold, as well as a few new characters. We already know the sequel sees Lightning McQueen head off to Europe to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix, and that his pal Mater is caught up in some kind of plot involving international espionage.
It turns out that Mater’s extreme levels of stupidity cause British super-spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) to mistake the tow truck for a spy — an assumption supported by McMissile’s perky, young fellow spy Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Both Caine and Mortimer were on hand at the event to accept toy versions of their respective characters from Disney. Disney Interactive’s video game will in some way tie into this spy plot, with players training to join the ranks of the MI6-like agency C.H.R.O.M.E..
Disney also revealed a handful of new characters during the presentation. Nigel Gearsley is a British racer competing in the World Grand Prix, a green Aston Martin-looking number with a stellar racing record. Also new is Miles Axelrod – sorry, that’s Sir Miles Axelrod – a green truck and former oil baron who sold off his holding and converted to electric. He’s the car behind the World Grand Prix, which also serves as a showcase for his company’s “wonder-fuel,” Allinol. Eddie Izzard will provide the voice of Axelrod. Disney also confirmed that John Turturro will voice the previously revealed Italian race car Francesco Bernoulli.
From the sound of things, Cars 2 is going to be a much more Mater-focused story. Director John Lasseter revealed in a pre-recorded announcement that his travels around the world doing press for the first movie got him thinking. “I found myself looking out at these amazing cities and imagining, ‘What would Mater do?’ I couldn’t help but laugh thinking about Mater lost in the maze of Tokyo streets, driving on the wrong side of the road in England or navigating the gigantic roundabouts in Paris.” He’s certainly got a lot more personality than the fairly bland McQueen … even if he is voiced by Larry the Cable Guy.