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Cars 2

A 2011 movie directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis.

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Not Everything is Right Under the Hood

  • Jun 28, 2011
Rating:
+3
The first Cars film was a surprising delight.  The first (and until now only) Pixar film that had no humans to connect with still managed to have quite a bit of its own humanity and satire.  It had funny and delightful characters that gave off a family togetherness vibe.  Radiator Springs was a place that, once the first film was over, you felt like you wanted to come back to.  If there is one film where a sequel is something somewhat questionable, it is definitely Cars.  But it's not as though Pixar hasn't been able to wow with a sequel.  Toy Story 2 was a delight and Toy Story 3 is easily among the greatest films in Pixar's history.  After having nothing but pure success in the critical and commercial department, it's a regret that Cars 2 is the first time a Pixar film completely clashed with my sensibilities.  The first time Pixar churned out something bizarre and nearly without charm. 

Imagine, if you will, that an Indiana Jones movie came out and the sidekick in said film was the most important character within the film.  This is essentially what you get from Cars 2.  A film in which the sidekick character takes over the spotlight.  The first film was largely about Lightning McQueen as he finds himself in unfamiliar territory.  That is, Radiator Springs where he has to adapt to life there and come to care about others besides himself.  It made the film's story simple, yet fun.  Something that the audience was very easily able to connect with.  Story was the name of the game with the original Cars.  And it was brought to life with great characters.

Cars 2, however, sees Lightning McQueen as a background character whose only real job in the movie is to exist and remind us that the story was once about him.  The character who becomes the main guy here?  Mater.  And while Mater is not the worst of characters, he is not by any means interesting enough to carry an entire film.  The decision seems to be from the fact that Mater was one of the most popular characters from the original film.  Sure enough, he was funny there, but he was mostly used as comic relief.  Here, Mater is out of place as the main guy because he was only good for comic relief.  It's hard to watch a movie about the bumbling idiot sidekick.  The other characters?  Largely pushed into the background just like McQueen.  The denizens of Radiator Springs show up (at some point) but they all feel like afterthoughts.  The film is almost devoid of character as Mater is the only one who seems to be of any importance.

The main plot of the film is arguably just as shallow.  Mater gets involved with a secret agent named Finn McMissile and his partner Holly Shiftwell who are trying their hardest to stop a bunch of lemon cars from sabotaging the Grand Prix by using a camera that causes cars to wreck (and can outright blow them up at full blast).  This goes in a very far direction from the previous film which was much more about the characters.  The plot here seems interesting from first glance as it takes on the espionage role to get things going, but before long it's unamusing because Mater is the absolute wrong character for the job.  

There is a Simpson's episode out there called "Homer Defined."  In the episode there is a running joke about how Homer thinks that when they look up a certain word in the dictionary there will be a picture of him.  He saves the day by stopping a meltdown at the Nuclear Power Plant.  He is hailed as a hero for his deeds until they all discover that Homer is just a moron who succeeded by pure luck alone.  The episode ends with several characters saying, "Looks like I pulled a Homer."  We are then shown that the definition of pulling a Homer is "To succeed despite idiocy."  Mater does this constantly throughout the film.  The problem is, no other character seems to play any integral role to Mater's success.  Part of what made Lightning McQueen's transformation as a character so amusing was that it wasn't JUST Lightning McQueen you were supposed to be paying attention to.  While Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell get some attention, the movie is very forward about letting you know it's Mater's show.  Lightning McQueen in particular is heavily downgraded.  We get bits and flashes of him in the races and interacting with a character named Francesco, but for the most part nothing Lightning McQueen does is of any real importance.  He is the character that plows through the plot completely oblivious to the danger he is in... and when he finally does come to the realization of the danger he's in he becomes a tacked on character to Mater.  The final moments in particular are a little too bizarre.  Mater running amok in England with Lightning McQueen mostly attached to him feels like Cars 2 is trying way too hard to be exciting.

There is little here for adults to really grasp onto.  In the past Pixar films have been a family affair where there are usually characters charming and likable enough to appeal to the adults as well.  Characters such as Woody and Buzz or Wall-E, or Remmy were amusing in and of themselves.  Cars 2 abandons all semblance of charm here.  It's hard to connect with the characters but it's even harder for adults to be given much of a reason to be sitting in the theater watching as a result.  And even then there are moments that are a little dark for a G-Rated film.  There are moments where characters are beaten senseless (with dents serving as bruises) and other moments where characters are cornered only for them to draw guns and get into fire fights.  There is even a moment where car explodes... through being tortured. 

Throughout all these moments there is nothing heartwarming about it.  And the sad part is that heartwarming moments is usually what Pixar does best.  Weren't we all a little hurt when hearing how Jessie was abandoned in Toy Story 2?  Didn't we all think Wall-E emoted a lot of cute innocence?  And how about the first ten minutes of Up?  Or even the whole second half of Toy Story 3?  If there is one thing Pixar has been consistently good at it is getting our emotions going.  Whether it's sadness (Toy Story 2) a strange sense of joy (Wall-E) or delight (Ratatouille), Pixar has always been able to do SOMETHING to get our emotions going.  Cars 2 is completely devoid of this.  There just isn't any heart.  When we see racers wiping out or even the one car that is literally tortured to death we've never been given much of a reason to care in the first place. 

That's not to say everything about Cars 2 is bad.  It's just to say that Pixar goes way too far in the opposite direction.  There are some fun moments such as watching Finn McMissle infiltrate the hideout of the bad guys at the beginning of the film (and watching his escape moments later) as well as watching Mater at the start where he provides some comedic antics.  It is the second half mostly where the majority of these problems comes to fruition.  Mater can't carry a movie all on his own, and it was certainly a mistake to make him the soul carrier of the comedy as well.  Most any moment without Mater features no particular comedic moments that really stand out.  Although Mater provides some comedic essence, the humor from him comes a little too heavy handed that his jokes get rather boring.  We already understand that Mater isn't the smartest guy out there.  There is no reason why some of the comedic love could be shared among the films other characters.  The other moments of comedy outside Mater are mostly concerning Lightning McQueen's rival, Francesco, but the joke becomes repetitive and drawn out after a time.

There is some fun to be had with Cars 2 but from Pixar one expects a bit more in the storytelling department..  It just doesn't have much of the charm of the first one.  It abandons the storytelling of the original film (there is a fine line between story and plot--most Pixar aren't exactly that plot centric as they are story centric) in favor of a bizarre espionage adventure.  The action sequences are fun and entertaining.  It's when you get down to the real substance of the matter that Cars 2 isn't as fun as the first.  The characters are empty this time around and Lightning McQueen was pushed aside in favor of Mater who, while good at providing some comic relief, just isn't a strong enough or interesting enough character to carry a movie on his own. 

Cars 2 is an okay movie.  If it had a little more heart and focus on the characters then it would be easy to sit back and enjoy it.  Instead it pushes much of it's cast into the background and puts Mater front and center.  Mater being the main character might've been fine if Cars 2 wasn't so persistent in trying to downlplay every other character.  For those who enjoyed the first Cars movie, it's going to be hard to recommend.  A lot of the familiarity that made the first one so much fun isn't there.  The movie has got a good coat of paint, but unfortunately something isn't right with the engine.

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June 28, 2011
This was pretty routine, better than I expected, but barely makes it past the 'just ok' mark. I agree with your review most especially the parts about its jokes and humor. They did feel redundant after awhile. Nice review!!
 
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Wiki

Lightning McQueen (voice by Owen Wilson), Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and the rest of the gang from Radiator Springs return to the screen in this sequel to Pixar'sCars(2006). But instead of evoking a nostalgic vision of Route 66 through the American Southwest, director John Lasseter and his artists spoof James Bond films in a fast-paced adventure that mixes espionage and road racing. After a successful season on the track, Lightning is looking forward to some rest at home, but Mater gets him involved in an elaborate three-part international race sponsored by Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) to promote his new synthetic auto fuel. While serving on Lightning's pit crew, Mater inadvertently gets mixed up with two British secret agent cars, Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who are investigating a plot to sabotage the race. Myriad complications ensue before Lightning and Mater get back to the (relative) peace of Radiator Springs. The Pixar artists clearly had a lot of fun spoofing locations in Tokyo, London, Paris, and the Italian Riviera, and creating auto versions of sumo wrestlers, kabuki actors, Queen Elizabeth II, and a doting Italian mother. The use of 3-D adds adrenaline to the racing sequences.Cars 2lacks the emotional impact ofToy Story 2,Up, and most of the other Pixar features, but that will do little to lessen its appeal to its target audience, boys who love cars, driving games, and car toys.Cars 2is ...
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Details

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy
Release Date: 24 June 2011 (USA)
Screen Writer: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
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