Cars 2

5 Jul

Title: Cars 2
Year: 
2011
Director: 
John Lasseter, co-directed by Brad Lewis
Writer: Ben Queen, based on a story by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis and Dan Fogelman
Starring: 
Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard, Joe Mantegna, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, John Turturro, Jeff Gordon, Lewis Hamilton, Vanessa Redgrave, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jeff Garlin
MPAA Rating: 
G
Runtime: 
106 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
35%

Yes, it’s true, it happened. Pixar finally produced a film that’s just fine and not spectacular. And that really is saying something, by the way. We’re talking about the one studio with a perfect streak, 11 films ranging from 1995 to 2010 that range from masterpieces to incredibly good. Allow me to recap the history of those eleven films. The first was the one people know the most, obviously, Toy Story in 1995, the film that started the wonders of digital animation, the film every animated film since owes a lot to. 1998 saw A Bug’s Life, a far more ambitious project as far as scope for the company. 1999 was the year of Toy Story 2, to this date one of the most perfect sequels ever made, animated or not. Their first film of the new millennium was 2001’s Monsters, Inc. which was awesome but meant Pixar lost it’s first stab at the Best Animated Feature Oscar, a category it pretty much helped create. In 2003 they got that trophy though, as Finding Nemo enchanted audiences worldwide. They repeated the feat in 2004, as The Incredibles won it, marking another landmark in the history of the company as their first PG-13 rated outing.

In 2006 came the film this one is the sequel to, Cars, and that one didn’t win the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and was the first Pixar film I didn’t downright love, even though I still liked it a fair bit. After that little stumble (even though Cars would be considered a success for any other animation house) Pixar went back to its masterful streak, upping up its own ante every single time, with Ratatouille in 2007, Wall-E in 2008, Up in 2009 and Toy Story 3 last year. Those four films are insanely good, and all won those Best Animated Feature Oscars. A four-year streak, I’m afraid to guess, will end with this one, Cars 2. It’s not that this one was a horrible film, because it’s not that bad, it’s just that it doesn’t feel like a Pixar film at all to me. Let me just go ahead and name those eleven prior films I just recapped and next to them insert the grade I gave to them upon watching them: Toy Story (A+), A Bug’s Life (A-), Toy Story 2 (A+), Monsters Inc. (A), Finding Nemo (A), The Incredibles (A+), Cars (B+), Ratatouille (A), Wall-E (A+), Up (A+) and Toy Story 3 (A+).

So, you see, out of the eleven films Pixar has released I have awarded 6 of those, more than half, a perfect A+ grade, which means I consider them masterpieces, and only one of them, the original Cars, has a grade in the B-range, and even that was a strong B+. The fact that I love Pixar films as much as I do isn’t just because of their insane animation skills, because their films are the most visually dazzling always, but it’s actually moreso because of their even better skills as the best storytellers in the industry. You look at the stories the Pixar films tell and they’re all extremely great, every film has one genuinely emotional moment, true emotions and indelible characters. And that’s why I didn’t like Cars 2 as much, because even though the animation is still undeniable outstanding, the story it tells is generic at best, and maybe people are being too harsh on this film because they expect so much from Pixar, but hey, that’s the price you pay when you have a decade and a half of sheer perfection under your belt.

I won’t be as critical of the film as some others have been, and I’ll probably end up giving it a weak B or a strong B-, because I recognize that as an animated film it’s decent enough, even though as a Pixar one it sucks. But, in reality, Pixar or not, there are just too many things that are just plain wrong about this film, and I’ll jump on the most popular bandwagon amongst those who disliked the films to point out its biggest error: Mater. That’s the sidekick of Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, a dimwitted truck that in this sequel gets what every sidekick dreams of, their very own chance to own the spotlight. And what we find out here is the reason why sidekicks are never the center of focus in a movie, and why their adventures are relegated to straight-to-video entries, this is a character that just doesn’t work as a main one at all.

And it’s not as though Lightning McQueen isn’t around any more, and we do see quite a bit of his racing successes, but Mater has a fallout with him, followed by the immediate and necessary identity and crisis and after that he’s the main part of this film, as the film evolves into an unlikely spy caper flick with a dimwitted redneck truck as the protagonist next to cars voiced by the very cool Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer. There is a lot of gunfire in this one in the midst of some horrible accents and attempts at jokes (though some of those really do work), and I just didn’t get the film. I didn’t get the story Pixar was trying to tell with it, there’s an ecological side to it I guess with Eddie Izzard’s character but you just can’t connect with anything in it, and in a Pixar film you expect some seriously deep emotional connection.

I’m guessing that part of that lack of emotional connection is because these are talking cars in a world in which humans don’t exist. Yes, Toy Story had toys and Wall-E had robots and Finding Nemo had fish, but they were all definitely embedded into a very human reality and it meant we could connect. That’s just not the case in Cars 2, and even though the original Cars wasn’t different in that way it at least focussed on a much better character and not in Mater, a character which A.O. Scott of The New York Times has given the dubious and yet accurate distinction of naming as the Jar Jar Binks of the Pixar world.

I know why Pixar chose Cars to make their first sequel outside of the Toy Story series. And even though you hate to think Pixar does anything other than for purely genius and creative reasons, you gotta know they did it for money. The original movie has made nearly $10 billion in merchandise sales since its release over five years ago, which puts it right up there with Star Wars, Harry Potter and Pixar’s own Toy Story as a film that can sell anything with its name on it because kids will want the toy cars, the t-shirts, the backpacks, you name it. So of course from that point of view expanding the franchise with Cars 2 made sense, I just hope that now they have made that money-making move they will move on to their usual business of making animated masterpieces, and if the teaser for next summer’s Brave is any indication, they seem to be doing just that.

Grade: B

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