Pixar can do no wrong.
With a string of outstanding hits that includes TOY STORY, MONSTERS INC, UP, and WALL-E, the studio has a long history of putting out films that involve great stories paired with great animation.
At least that’s what I used to think.
When I saw the preview for the first CARS, I remember thinking that it was going to be the studio’s first misstep. I thought the animation looked subpar for them, and the concept left a lot to be desired. But after watching the movie, I found (as with all Pixar films) a very touching and well written story of friendship, couched in a perfect piece of kid friendly animation. Lets face it, kids love cars. Talking cars just makes them cooler.
CARS 2 falls into the sequel trap that seems to plague most Disney productions. Given a hit, Disney does what most studios do, commissions another one, thinking of the money that will come rolling in by returning to the familiar. And plenty of sequels do that well. CARS 2 feels like a monetary decision from moment one. It expands the universe away from the race tracks and Radiator Springs in the first film and goes for a James Bond world adventure with spies. Ordinarily, no problem. Except Pixar has already tackled this type of film (and much better) in the superhero themed THE INCREDIBLES, which when you get right down to it, IS a James Bond flick (The super villain has henchmen, a secret volcano lair, and a whole bunch of toys). But while I’m sure they existed in the CARS universe, spies weren’t needed in the CARS universe.
I appreciate the effort that was made to shift the focus in the second film, but it doesn’t really work either. TOY STORY, while a definite buddy flick, is really Buzz Lightyear’s story. His path to acceptance that he is in fact, a toy. TOY STORY 2 flipped the equation to Woody, allowing him to discover his “value” as a toy. The same could be said for the live action OCEAN’S ELEVEN. While given two equal characters in Danny and Rusty, the first film is Danny’s story and how he reunites with his love. OCEAN’S TWELVE is Rusty’s story and how he reunites with his love. So we know this formula does work. BUT, we’re taking two equal characters in these other films. No matter how you slice it in the first CARS movie, Matter is a side kick to Lightning McQueen. Larry The Cable Guy is funny in small doses, and was perfect in the first film. But by trying to shift that focus to Matter in this movie, they’ve elevated him beyond sidekick status and into leading man territory. That means the cute fun Larry The Cable Guy becomes over the top, in your face for a full 2 hours Larry The Cable Guy, and it’s just a bit too much. There is a surprisingly adult story at the heart of CARS 2 in the plot of old lemons like Gremlins and Etzels banding together to gain respect at last (or maybe that’s not surprising, this is Pixar, after all) but it feels secondary to the friendship and acceptance between McQueen and Matter.
Having said all that, CARS 2 is a cute film, and fun to watch. Finn MacMissile is aptly voiced by Michael Caine, and is everything a suave British secret agent should be, and once again John Tutturo shows off with a odd little accent in a film and seems to have a lot of fun with it. The locations are bright and colorful, and the supporting cast from Radiator Springs do make appearances, though truncated cameos. I have to admit, I payed a lot of attention to the backgrounds during the London race, hoping for a glimpse of a Police Box somewhere in the background. I was rewarded when one character (strapped to a giant gear inside Big Ben) makes the comment, “trying to turn back time… if I can only reverse the polarity…” definitely a WHO fan somewhere at Pixar.
For all it’s flaws, CARS 2 is worth watching, but it does become the first Pixar film that I won’t own, and I think suffers primarily from being a sequel that didn’t need to be made. (And the trend will continue, as Disney brings us PLANES, set in the same universe but without the Pixar touch. The trailer? Meh.)
CARS 2 – C