Recent reports regarding the utter crapitude of Cars 2, Pixar’s latest animated feature, have been greatly exaggerated.
I believe Pixar has become a victim to it’s own stellar history and reputation in that we have become so accustomed to greatness, when something merely good, if not very good, comes along we are bound to be somewhat disappointed. That seems to be the case with Cars 2.
From the get-go, this sequel faced an uphill challenge due to the fact that many (not myself) consider the original Cars to be the studio’s weakest link in it’s chain of hits, and the Rotten Tomato scores for Pixar’s catalog bear this mindset out… it ranges from 91 – 100%, with the exception of Cars at 74%… and now 33% with Cars 2. I can’t help but feel that sometimes we are missing the point with some of these movies. They are animated… and for all the talk about how much more elevated Pixar films tend to be story and character-wise… Cars and its sequel are ultimately movies for children with hints of something for adults to chew on without being completely pandered to.
In the original film we are introduced to Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and all of the residents of Radiator Springs in a story revolving around McQueen’s coming of age and hit all of the sentimental buttons expected of a good Pixar film… although for many (again… not myself), the conceit of a world with only cars and other forms of transportation yet no humans was enough to turn them off. Cars 2 turns out to be a very different movie, with a very different motivation… less of a journey of discovery and more of an action packed spy thriller set against the backdrop of exotic locals and villainous plots.
Immediately we are introduced to Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), a Goldfinger-era Aston Martin with every gadget thought up by Q and more loaded onto it, as he is infiltrating an oil rig in the middle of a rough ocean. One aspect of this film I have not heard one complaint about is the animation itself… and here in the opening sequence, very similar of course to an action set piece opening of any and all Bond films… the animation and the 3D are spectacular. And Michael Caine is the perfect voice for such a smooth vehicle.
In Radiator Springs, McQueen is returning home after winning his fourth Piston Cup and getting all caught up in his friendship with Mater and his relationship with Sally (Bonnie Hunt) when he takes on the challenge of racing in the first World Grand Prix thanks to the ego-maniacal trash talking Italian Formula-1 race car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) egging him on… and when McQueen invites Mater to travel with him to Tokyo (Towkyo for the film), Porto Costa, Italy (a fictitious Italian coastal town) and London, the adventure begins.
The idea behind the World Grand Prix is that it will be a showcase for Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) to show off his new non-petroleum bio-fuel, Allinol. Someone is trying to disrupt the race and take out each car… but why? This is a point I was rather impressed with… a plot revolving around gasoline corporations trying to take out alternative fuels on an international scale. All of the mysterious evil-doer henchmen are all lemons from the past… Gremlins, Pacers, Yugos, etc… and the mastermind is unknown.
Much of the film revolves around Mater this time around once he is mistaken as an American spy by the British spies Finn and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). His character was an absolute favorite with young boys and was such a massive revenue generator… and this is really where the movie loses some of it’s charms. Mater is great in small doses. In larger doses the comedy gets a bit stale and his story arc a tad flimsy.
It is the lack of an emotionally satisfying story arc that gives this movie a less than stellar sheen… but I would say that overall, the film is fast paced, filled with some wonderful action set pieces, all of the Pixar Easter eggs seemed present (in Paris we see GasTows [Gasteau’s from Ratatouille] and in Italy there is a business called Topolino’s, which is Italian for Mickey Mouse) and every kid in the theater seemed to be enjoying it greatly. This is not a Pixar film for you… this is one for the kids and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that.
Sequels are always a tricky thing and Pixar fans have notoriously high standards that I’m not certain anyone could live up to. If this film goes down as the studio’s first flop, and by the look of things it will, I don’t think they really have anything to be ashamed of. Pixar’s version of a flop is still superior to the majority of animated movies for children anywhere and at anytime… and Cars 2 is a wonderful and fun film with incredible animation and exciting action sequences. It has it’s faults to be sure… but it’s not a complete clunker by any stretch of the imagination.
Losing that new car smell?
Cornelius J. Blahg