Cars 2 | John Lasseter, 2011
From 1995 through 2004, Pixar gave us Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. All of these were very good, with some of them touching greatness and are now classics. But then in 2006 they stumbled with Cars, a simple story of a hotshot rookie car finding out that sometimes the best things in life are simple. Up ‘til then, it was the most reviled movie by the studio, and yet it managed to get good reviews. It also wasn’t a hit that would make a studio want to make a sequel. However, since the release of that movie, Disney has sold over ten billion dollars in merchandise, and they made Pixar put out a sequel.
Well, five troubled years later, Cars 2 has been released, and it has now become Pixar’s lowest-rated film. It has a 34% on Rottentomatoes, which is lower than just about every Dreamworks movie. While they are right in that it is pretty disappointing for a Pixar film, it is actually not that bad. But after the string of great movies that got released after the first time that Pixar hit rock bottom (Ratatouille, WALL•E, Up, and Toy Story 3), it really leaves on wondering where things went wrong.
Cars 2, unlike the original is not really about anything significant. In this chapter, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is competing in a world grand prix that takes place in Tokyo, Italy, and England and decides to bring Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Meanwhile, a British spy, Finn McMissile (Michael Cain) is working on a case that involves big oil companies. They cross paths in Tokyo, and after an accident, Finn ends up believing that Mater is an American spy and they end up working together on the case, and so, hilarity is supposed to ensue.
The big problem of the movie is not, as some would have you believe, that Mater is the main character, which means more of the actor voicing him. The big problem is the story and the script. Some of the spy stuff works as parody, but the plot is not interesting enough, and as a result the movie drags for big chunks of time. And at times they try to inject some moral into it, like an environmental message, as well as the “be your self” moral that is as old as time. Also, the villains and their motivations are stupid and weak. And don’t even get me started on some of the flaws that arrive from the fact that this is a movie about talking cars. Like, for example, how did Doc Hudson die? We know that Paul Newman died and they couldn’t recast the character because, well, who can replace Paul Newman? But did he have an accident; did his battery die, or what? Pixar could have spent all the money they spent for this and make a true spy movie, but alas, we are stuck with this.
With that said, there are still some excellent things about it. Chief among them are the action sequences. They are excellent and any Hollywood blockbuster would be happy to have them. The greatness of these scenes makes the climax extremely exhilarating despite the silliness of it all. The cast is also very good, especially the three people that are most important to the story.
Honestly, Mater is one of my favorite Pixar characters. He is charming and funny. Neither of these things are true about Larry the Cable Guy, yet he is perfect for the character. And in this movie mater is not just a stupid redneck. In this movie they show that he actually has a brain, especially for knowing everything there is to know about the inner workings of cars, and this helps him get by in his mission as a spy. The other two stand-outs are Michael Cain and Emily Mortimer. Cain brings what you would expect to a 007-type of character, as does Mortimer as a car version of a Bond girl.
On the technical side, this movie is as good as any other Pixar film. The animation is gorgeous. The same could be said about the sound design (if this movie has any Oscar hopes, it is in the sound categories). Michel Giacchino’s score is a mix of his work for The Incredibles and Speed Racer, yet it manages to not be as good as either of these. However, it works within the film.
The performances, as well as the action sequences elevate the movie much more than one would expect of a movie with this script and story. Pixar has definitely hit rock bottom, but because of those things, I’ll have to give this a pass, even it barely made it.