There was once a rumor that the major heads of Pixar – John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich (I don’t count Brad Bird because he came later) were afraid to let any of their staff take on directing any of their films. With such an illustrious track record, it’s understandable. Pixar has picked up quite a reputation as being one of the few production companies one can count on to have Supposedly, they felt that the quality wouldn’t be as great.
So, I’m certain that the Pixar Heads are eating their own pie when they realize how Cars 2 turned out. It’s a fun film that the kids will adore, but it really lacks the heart that many of the other Pixar films are known for. Mind you, I’m not blasting the movie and saying it should be avoided. Not at all. It’s just that this is more of a movie for the kids and less of one for the adults. I feel that’s the problem everyone’s having with it. This is a good thing. It reminds Pixar of what they need to do to keep winning Oscars, while still being entertaining for the kids. Hopefully, because one of the head honchos made a mistake, maybe the company may consider letting some of the new kids try a hand at it.
In short, the Kid in me loved Cars 2. The Adult in me felt “Well, at least the Kid enjoyed it.” It suffers from two problems – a great story that would have been better set in the world of The Incredibles and a forced moral to the story. This may be the first Pixar film since A Bug’s Life where I haven’t teared up, this coming from someone who couldn’t make it out of the first 15 minutes of Up without tissues.
Previously on Cars, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) won his very first Piston Cup after a pit stop in the small town of Radiator Springs, where he learned to slow down and relax. He also met up with Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who may not be the brightest spark plug in the engine, but means well and manages to help when he can. Now, we find that McQueen has earned a number of Piston Cups and is one of the best racers in the world. After returning to Radiator Springs, he finds himself greeted by Mater – who’s been anxiously waiting for his best friend. Mater, being who he is, can’t help but be a little overboard in his fun, which ends up getting McQueen involved in a brand new race that’s sponsored by a clean fuel magnate.
Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are also investigating what could be a dangerous situation. While meeting with one of their American contacts (a great cameo by Bruce Campbell), the contact passes on some special information to Mater. Mater, not realizing what he’s been tagged with, is mistaken for a spy by the duo and brought into the investigation. That’s basically what Cars 2 is. It’s “Mater becomes a Spy”, and for the most part it works, but only if you really like the character. Mater is finally given his time to shine and he pulls it off well. I myself don’t mind Larry the Cable Guy, so it’s okay for me. For the grown ups, it could be a Mater overload. The kids will eat it up. The parents may actually get a little annoyed at how clueless Mater can be at times.
I have to admit that both Michael Caine and John Tuturro (Francesco Bernoulli) were two of the strongest character voices in the film. Owen Wilson’s okay, but the story really is only about him in terms of his relationship to Mater. I really didn’t care too much about Lightning this time around. We know his story, he’s grown about as much as he can in my eyes. More or less, he’s playing second or third fiddle. Seeing Caine in this made me want to watch Harry Brown again, or The Fourth Protocol. The fact that he’s also playing an Aston Martin DB5 type Vehicle is a sweet touch for me. He ’s smooth with his lines and pulls off the British Agent role pretty well. Mortimer is also relaxed in her role. Tuturro’s Bernoulli is as over the top as he was in The Big Lebowski, and he was a treat here as McQueen’s main rival. He may have had more fun than the others working on this, from the way he sounds.
Visually, Cars 2 is as beautiful as the other Pixar films, but doesn’t really seem to break that much new ground. Toyko looks nice, Paris is perfect (right down to the Ratatouille reference, if you catch it) and Italy looks sweet, but we know Pixar can do that. The 3D, however is downright magical, and I’m one who honestly believes the medium is best served with Animated films rather than filmed ones. It’s not exactly How to Train Your Dragon, but it’s still good in it’s own right.
I mentioned earlier that the story could have been better set in the world of The Incredibles. It’s an interesting spy story (the reasoning behind why what’s happening was funny in the sense of cars and the like), but the idea that cars are actually doing all of this action kind of pulls away from the story. At least, the adult in me comes off with this thought. For kids, it’s cars doing cool stuff, and I doubt it’ll come across as boring. The other problem is that the moral of the story – accepting your friends for who they are, despite their quirks (because we all have them) – feels a little forced. It’s like someone concentrated so hard on trying to do it that when it does occur, you go..”Okay, I get it.”, But I didn’t walk away feeling anything. Ratatouille’s Remy had a passion for cooking, one so great that he even made the most wicked food critic believe that “Anyone Can Cook”. In Up, Carl Fredricksen learned to let go of what he was holding on to and found new adventures. Mater undergoes a change, but it isn’t quite a big or a substantial. Actually it doesn’t even last long. It’s just clean fun.
Overall, looking at Cars 2, it’s not the greatest Pixar film they’ve done – far, far from it, but it’s a kid’s film. It’s quite enjoyable, but it sacrifices heart for action, something that Kung Fu Panda 2 managed to hold onto this year. Your kids will love it and you’ll enjoy that they’ll love it, but just don’t bring any tissues. They’re not necessary. You really wont find your heartstrings pulled here too much.