Monday, July 4, 2011

Movie Review: Cars 2

Cars 2 ** ½
Directed by: John Lasseter.
Written by: Ben Queen & John Lasseter & Brad Lewis & Dan Fogelman.
Starring: Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Michael Caine (Finn McMissile), Emily Mortimer (Holley Shiftwell), Eddie Izzard (Sir Miles Axlerod), John Turturro (Francesco Bernoulli), Joe Mantegna (Grem), Thomas Kretschmann (Professor Z), Bonnie Hunt (Sally), Tony Shalhoub (Luigi), Jeff Garlin (Otis).

For the first time in their history, Pixar has made a movie that I have no desire to see again. Even when Pixar has failed to deliver a film up to their almost impossibly high standards in the past – with films like A Bug’s Life or the original Cars – they still made an entertaining film that was miles beyond most animated fare. But with Cars 2, I think they forgot what makes Pixar movies so special. This is a film that is so full of plot and action, that the characters in the film get lost. Most Pixar movies are simple stories, where the characters end up learing something, and also end up touching the audience members hearts. Here, the film is so busy that the film never connects on that emotional level. Each of the last 4 Pixar movies – Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 – not only made my annual top 10 list, but also made me cry like a little girl. Cars 2 is quite simply not in their league.

One of the reasons I don’t think Cars 2 works very well, is because it switches focus off of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), the big headed, race car who had to learn to slow down and enjoy life in the first film, to his comic relief sidekick, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Mater was, without a doubt, the most popular character in the first film, but he was a supporting character – and that’s where he belongs. He is there to play the “best friend”, not the leading man. Here, his character is asked to carry the movie, and it simply doesn’t work.

The story follows McQueen as he is challenged to take part in the first ever World Grand Prix – a series of three races, where all types of race cars will compete. What that means is the McQueen’s biggest competition will be the F-1 car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), who can go faster than McQueen, a Nascar, but not for as long. The first race is to take place in Japan, and McQueen decides to bring his best friend Mater along with him. But Mater being Mater, turns out to be an embarrassment to McQueen, who snaps at him, and makes Mater sulk away. But little does Mater know that he has becoming an unwilling dupe in a complex spy game – with Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) of British Intelligence on one side, and a nefarious group of “lemons” on the other side. It is this plot that doesn’t work, and takes up the vast majority of the running time of Cars 2.

This being a Pixar movie, there are things to praise about it. The animation is still top notch (but, having seen the film in 3-D, I have to say there is little to no reason to shell out the extra money to see it in that format). The background of Cars 2 is filled with excellent, visual touches and jokes – I did particularly love all the anime references when the movie was in Japan.

It’s just, to me, Cars 2 is everything that Pixar movies are not. I see no reason why kids – especially little boys – will not love this movie. This is the type of fast paced, colorful, action packed movie that kids will simply love. And more power to them. But to me, Pixar has always succeeded in making movies that work on level for kids – the action, adventure, comic level – and another for adults, where more serious issues of love, loss and aging are brought up. This seemed like a perfect marriage – because kids got what they wanted to, and adults still got to see one of the very best films of the year right along side them. So, if you have kids, by all means, take them to see Cars 2, they’ll love. But for the first time ever for a Pixar movie, I can honestly say that if you don’t have kids, there really is no point in seeing the movie.


  1. A lot of people would probably agree on your last line there, Dave. Kids don't have the sense of noticing little downsides in animated movies like this. It was actually fun to watch my kid while he watched it. :D

  2. I've been reading blogs about Cars 2, and they say the exact same things. But when you see it from a child's point of view, you would say that it is quite enjoyable. My nephew couldn't stop raving about it. I had to buy him a Lightning McQueen pillow after that.

  3. I don't disagree with either of you. Kids, especially boys, seem to love Cars 2. However, I think that the film doesn't live up to the standard that Pixar has set for themselves. Personally, I think Pixar has been the most consistently great creative force in American movies in the past decade. Their films succeed because they work for both kids AND adults. To me, Cars 2 is simply a kids movie. There's nothing really wrong with that, but I expect more from Pixar.