Pixar-thon: Cars 2

Things have been looking good for Radiator Springs ever since Lightning McQueen made it his new home base. Tourism is at an all time high and the town has been restored to its former glory. Things start looking even better when Lighting is invited to compete in the first ever World Grand Prix in Tokyo, Japan. But while Lightning is involved in the big race, his friend Mater gets caught up in an adventure of his own: international espionage. When he crosses paths with a spy car on a special mission and is mistaken for a spy himself, the rusty tow truck is taken around the world to stop an international conspiracy set up by a group of cars known as “lemons”.

I’ve been dreading this day since I first decided to do Pixar-thon. At that point it was the only Pixar movie I hadn’t seen, and the negative feedback combined with the fact that I wasn’t a big fan of the original Cars to begin with did nothing to lift my enthusiasm. When I saw the trailers all I could think was “Really, Pixar? This is how you’re going to follow up Toy Story 3? With an unnecessary sequel to your movie ill-received movie? And to top it all off you’re going to make the spies?” Seriously, on the surface it just looks like Pixar ran out of ideas after exhausting themselves with three excellent movies in a row, threw their hands in the air and just said “screw it!” But like all movies, I went into this one with cautious optimism, hoping maybe this movie will surprise me. So the big question is this: does Cars 2 deserves all the scorn it gets?

I’ll get to what I liked about the movie first because my dislikes do outweigh them. I don’t think I was alone when I dismissed the premise as stupid. I mean, come on. A spy movie with cars? That sounds more like a parody of a Pixar movie rather than something they would actually do. But to my surprise, I rather enjoyed the spy related stuff. Like I’ve said in the past, Pixar has a knack for taking simple premises and using them to their full potential. The espionage scenes and the way they use spy gadgets were very creative, and the action scenes were pretty engaging. I particularly liked the top spy character Finn McMissile, but that’s mostly because he’s played by Michael Cain and Michael Cain is awesome. I also really liked this arrogant Italian Formula-1, but he’s played by John Turturro and John Turturro is awesome too.

Even though I’m not a car person and my knowledge of them is very minimal, it was pretty clear to me that the people behind this movie are very passionate and knowledgeable about cars and knew just how to use it. Like in the previous Cars, each character was fitted with a model that matched their personality. Sure, some were a bit dimensional, but so were the characters in the last movie and they didn’t really call for that much depth. I especially liked that the main villains were a bunch of ugly, obsolete cars that most of us forgot existed. Seriously, when was the last time anybody saw a Gremlin?

But that’s where my enthusiasm ends because the rest of the movie is a convoluted mess.

First thing’s first, I have to ask myself why they decided to make Mater the main character. He was slightly tolerable in the first movie, but we didn’t get to deal with him as much. Now that he’s in the spotlight, all of his worst traits were magnified. Not only was he ungodly annoying, but he was a huge screw-up. When I realized that he was going to be the main focus, I knew right away what direction this movie was going in: Everyone thinks he’s a spy because of some comedic misunderstanding and double meaning, and Mater only gets through all the danger by comedically fumbling through it like a bumbling idiot. Now I kind of get what the appeal of Mater. He’s supposed to be the lovable loser who screws things up, but his heart is in the right place and by golly he’s trying. That would be all fine and dandy if not for the fact that he wasn’t funny. At all. I get it’s a kid’s movie and there are only so many jokes you can make out of car puns, but I’m sorry, he’s just not that strong of a character and isn’t capable of carrying a whole movie. But I guess that’s what you get when your lead is played by Larry the Cable Guy. (Now if they got Bill Engvall, that would be something else.)

Another thing I had a big problem with are the morals. Not that they’re bad messages, just that they’ve all been done to death. Now I have no objections to lessons about embracing your differences, being happy with who you are or even the importance of friendship (I am a brony after all), but considering the themes and issues that Pixar has tackled in the past, I was left scratching my head wondering why they would decide to go with something this rudimentary. You’re Pixar! You’re renowned worldwide for avoiding family film cliches. And you’re going to compromise all of this integrity by tacking on the biggest cliché of all? Seriously, did Disney force you to make this movie at gunpoint?

Actually, now that I think about it, the truth isn’t that far off. Even though Pixar’s movies are widely marketable and most of them have spawned tons and tons of merchandise. With the exception of Ratatouille and Up, I don’t think I’ve seen a Pixar movie that didn’t have its own line of toys, t-shirts, backpacks, party fare, picture books and other paraphernalia, and from what I’m guessing, Cars was the most profitable in this department, so Disney, being the cash grabbers they are, made Pixar do another Cars movie so they could sell more stuff, but instead of actually putting effort into it like Toy Story 3, slapped together this bloated mess for the sole purpose of making money. And that’s what this movie was ladies and gentlemen: one big sell out. Now this might not turn out to be such a bad thing. Doing something undignified for a quick buck is part of the entertainment business, and oftentimes it’s only done as a means to fund a bigger project. (For a good example, check out Johnny Rotten’s ads for Country Life Butter. All the funds made there were used to fund his next PiL tour and a brilliant middle finger to his critics.) But hopefully the revenue will be put to good use and Pixar will use the money for something more dignified. But judging by what movies they have in the pipeline… let’s just say I hope that I’m wrong on this one.

So I don’t think I’m surprising anyone when I say that Cars 2 was one huge mess. It was a desperate cash grab that was flimsily put together and had none of the heart, soul or subtlety that Pixar is known for. Hopefully this isn’t first sign of a downhill slip, but we’ll find out if that’s the case next week when I finally wrap up Pixar-thon.

I give Cars 2 3/10.

Twelve down, one to go.


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