Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Cars 2

For the past decade and a half the word Pixar has been associated with a spotless track record. Not spotless in the sense that its 11 films were all masterpieces but all of them were in that range between excellent and very good with a few flaws. The closest thing to an exception to this was 2006's "Cars," which while overlong and nowhere near the realm of "The Incredibles" or "Monsters, Inc.," was still a pretty good movie that had plenty of heart.
However, I wasn't alone in my concern when I first saw the trailer for "Cars 2." Not only is it the sequel to the studio's weakest offering to date, its spy storyline didn't seem to fit with the spirit of the original. The question on so many minds was, "Has Pixar made its first bad movie?" The answer is no. Not quite. They have however made their first mediocre one. Their first film that I can unequivocally say is not good.
This isn't to say that it doesn't have some good elements because it does. In truth there was potential here for it to be far superior to its predecesor but the movie's attention is on the wrong plot. Ultimately we have a film for which expectations were low and yet somehow managed to be disappointing. So now to try to understand where things went wrong.
Picking up a few years after the events of the first movie, racing star Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is coming off a string of championships in races around the world but still living in Radiator Springs, home of his girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Exhausted from racing and globe trotting Lightning just wants to give himself and his crew some time off but when Italian race car Franceso Bernoulli (John Turturro) throws down a gauntlet on live television Mater accepts the challenge on Lightning's behalf.
A series of races in Japan, France, and England will be held to determine who is the fastest race car in the world. Wanting to give Mater a chance to see the world Lightning brings him along as part of his team. Not only does Mater embarrass Lightning within moments of their arrival he ends up (for reasons far too complicated to explain here) accidentally becoming an international spy, working with British Intelligence cars Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
As suspected, this spy story doesn't fit the amiable world of "Cars" and thus the film's violence is actually quite shocking. I'm not one who has a problem with movie violence as a rule but it doesn't belong here. Characters are killed on screen quite disturbingly and at one point an order to, "Kill Lightning McQueen" is issued. Even just using Pixar's own canon as an example of how to do this sort of thing the right way look at "The Incredibles." Yes there were characters who we died but we never met them, save for the ones who made the mistake of wearing capes. That wasn't disturbing. It was just funny. Not only is it not funny here it's unnecessary and just downright baffling.
The other baffling decision made by director John Lasseter is to make Mater this movie's star. He's the best friend who works best in small doses, not top banana. But he is indisputably the lead character in "Cars 2." Most of the movie you end up wishing the focus would go back to the subplot involving Lightning's series of races. These are the moments in which the film has some pep and humor and if this story had been allowed to develop and given room to breathe this movie would have actually been a heck of a lot of fun. There is also worthwhile message for kids about friendship that doesn't come off heavy handed or condescending.
What is heavy handed and condescending is the film's political message involving a mysterious villain who controls "big oil." Again, one only needs look at another Pixar film, "Wall-E," to see an environmental message that doesn't beat you over the head with a baseball bat. As presented here, children will not grasp it, and there isn't a trace of subtlety to appeal to adults. What's actually truly offensive about it is how deritative the idea of the big evil corporation is. If you're going to tell a story about an evil corporation or government then have something new to say. Lasseter doesn't.
All in all, "Cars 2" has just enough moments of humor and heart to prevent it from being a truly bad movie. But it falls far short of being a good one. Don't cry doom and gloom that this is the end of Pixar's run. One subpar film out of twelve is nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, the best learn from their failures. I suspect that will be the case here. 5/10.


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