Cars 2: Lo, How the Mighty Have Fallen
I realize that it’s been somewhat fashionable to trash Cars 2, declaring it the bargain basement movie of Pixar’s collection and wondering why John Lasseter and company would ruin such a fine tradition by crapping out a turd of a movie. I would like very much to refute all of these negative reviews and state that Pixar has never had a stinker, Cars 2 is just as much of a classic as Finding Nemo, and all is right with the world.
I just can’t do it.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Cars 2 with its Pixar predecessors. Nope. Wait. I can’t make that fly either. When this movie is directed by the same man who brought us Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Up and even frigging Tangled (which isn’t even a Pixar movie but was still fantastic), then yes, we do have the right to make that comparison.
Cars 2 was the first Pixar movie I didn’t go see in the theater. Seriously. Granted, I didn’t have a lot of spare cash on hand and I was holding out for Harry Potter, which was coming out the next month. But if I’d really wanted to go, I would have found a way. So why did I shrug my shoulders and say “Meh?”
For starters, I wasn’t all that keen on the first Cars movie. It just wasn’t that appealing to me. It didn’t suck, but it wasn’t as good as I’d come to expect from Pixar. I also tend to be somewhat skeptical of sequels. I know that plenty of excellent sequels are out there, in fact, I would argue that Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 were even better than the original, but I loved the first Toy Story, so I was much more willing to take a chance on the sequel. I didn’t love Cars. I didn’t love the characters. I didn’t love the story. A few shining Pixar moments were there, in the character of Doc Hudson (voiced by Paul Newman), and in the sequence where the town’s demise is shown, backed by the beautiful James Taylor track. But on the whole, I just couldn’t justify spending 50 bucks to drag the family to the next one.
So what exactly is wrong with Cars 2?
It doesn’t have any of the joy, wonder and fascination of the rest of the Pixar catalogue. It’s a spy story, told quickly, with no time for special moments and delightful characters. With the loss of Paul Newman, Doc Hudson, the best character in the first movie, is gone. I do applaud their decision not to recast him, as it would have been a travesty, but they did recast Fillmore, the hippie VW bus, who was originally voiced by George Carlin.
Speaking of voices and actors – oh, I just loathe Larry the Cable Guy. And that’s who this movie is about. Mater is now the main character, and Larry the Cable Guy gets top billing over the other actors. In the first movie, towards the end, there’s a moment where Mater shouts out LtCG’s (I am not going to write that mess out every time) signature line: “Git ‘er done!” That moment irritated the crap out of me. It was jarring, it knocked you right out of the movie, and you lost the sense of the character because you were focusing too much on the actor. Although I never heard “Git ‘er done” in Cars 2, I did hear a couple variations of “That’s funny, right there,” another one of LtCG’s signature lines.
Some excellent talent was brought into this movie, including Michael Caine, John Turturro and Eddie Izzard. But they take a back seat to Mater and his one-liners. Eddie Izzard appears to be primarily used for his accent – his character isn’t funny at all. The actress playing the female spy (and Mater’s love interest – ew, really?), Emily Mortimer, constantly sounds like she is reading from a script. Owen Wilson sounds like he’d rather be doing something else.
Okay, so it stinks as a Pixar movie. How does it stand up as just a straight-up kid’s movie? My kids are movie junkies. Especially Disney-Pixar movies. The first Cars was on endless replay at our house until the disc finally became too damaged to play (and what a relief that was, I must say). A half hour in, my 11-year-old son had wandered into his room to go do something else and my 3-year-old daughter was more interested in wrestling and trying to stick her fingers up my nose.
The plot is too complicated and the set-up too mature for kids. While this could be said of many Pixar movies, which tend to have a complex theme, they always manage to have a beauty and appeal to them that keeps kids hooked while enthralling parents (and usually making me cry). Even all the cars racing around and crashing into each other couldn’t help save this convoluted plot line from itself. It essentially involved a number of cars sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves and an attempt to sabotage a race promoting the use of alternative fuels. I know, right? It’s not the first time environmental issues have been done by Pixar, but Wall-E did it much better, with heart and sensitivity you could relate to, plus you got the delightful scene of Wall-E and Eve dancing with the fire extinguisher.
I suppose Cars 2 does have some redeeming values. It emphasizes the notion of sticking by your friends, even when they are acting like complete morons (although I can’t blame Lightning McQueen for his actions, I would have been trying to ditch Mater, too – he’s completely obnoxious). The animation is, of course, beautiful. A few stand-out moments are a realistic parachute collapse and trees being rustled by the wind off a helicopter. Stunning.
I suspect that somewhere, on some Pixar head honcho’s desk, is a chart depicting sales of toys based on Pixar movies. I strongly suspect that the bar representing Cars is off the chart. I can’t fathom any other reason why this movie was made.