It’s a slicker model, but Cars 2 still has some junk in its trunk.
Drive-In Double Feature
Cars 2 is two movies in one, which isn’t to say it’s twice the fun. It’s a close call, with the movie pulling together in the final laps enough to make for an almost-reluctant recommendation.
The best of the two is a spy game involving a collective of the planet’s worst cars. All the Gremlins, Pacers, and Trabants of the world are uniting in a nefarious plot to sabotage the green movement. That’s cool enough.
But the other storyline doesn’t mesh all that well with the spy movie and it’s got co-writer and co-director John Lasseter’s fingerprints all over it. The other half of this bi-polar flick is a “by gosh, we’re best friends forever” story, a cloying, overdone refrain of Toy Story’s “you’ve got a friend in me.”
The hallmark of most Pixar movies is the ability to entertain across the ages. From start to finish, young and old alike can enjoy the best of Pixar’s impressive collection of feature-length productions. The Incredibles and Wall*E in particular demonstrate quite a bit of thematic smarts. Cars 2 isn’t in that league.
At this point, somebody needs to pull over Lasseter and give his tone a tune-up. He’s becoming the king of animated schmaltz and overblown sentimentality. Given the grousing some moviegoers have dished out to Steven Spielberg and Barry Levinson in the past, they’re looking more and more like Martin Scorsese in comparison.
Running on Fumes
An impressive opening action sequence involving espionage on an oil rig effectively captures the mood and gadgetry of the James Bond movies and sets the rest of the movie up for high hopes. Unfortunately, the action slows to a standstill in the next sequence, set back in Radiator Springs. Mirroring the changes in tone, from grating bromance to ultra-cool spy flick, the action equally totters between dull and exciting.
Given the level-headed storytelling sensibilities of Pixar’s best (and that would not include Toy Story 3), the relationship between Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, The Darjeeling Limited) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is particularly clumsy. Shucks, these two guys only met for the first time during Cars (the 2006 model). It’s drilled home so much what great friends they are, and how valuable their friendship is, and how oily Lightning feels after ditching Mater, it starts to feel like an after school special more than a big screen movie.
On top of that, there’s a “be yourself” message that is equally preachy. Mater, having been mistaken for an undercover spy, is given the opportunity to get cleaned up, get his rust spots removed and his dents fixed. Alas, those dents have value. Each and every one was earned while playing with Lightning. Mater doesn’t want to be refinished, he just wants to be himself.
Looking back at the Pixar canon, there’s gotta be more interest in an Incredibles or Monsters, Inc. sequel than a follow up to the talking cars movie that had a heavy NASCAR angle. It’d be interesting to see Lasseter’s notes for pitching this one.
“Well, we’ve got this green energy message that we can hide away in a shell game involving spies, sabotage, and a duplicitous truck. Is the movie pro-green or pro-big oil? We’ll keep people guessing until the very end. To make it more palatable to the car-loving, oil-hogging market that made the first movie a commercial success (big enough to warrant pitching this sequel), we can have the first movie’s Redneck in Chief, Tow Mater, take the lead.
“A green message that we keep buried until the final frames and a redneck star. How slick is that? They’ll love it!”
Hold on there, Johnny Boy. Tow Mater was mighty annoying in the first movie. For some people, Larry the Cable Guy – voiceover or in the flesh – is hard to take even in fairly small doses. Giving him the lead is like having Paulie, Rocky Balboa’s abrasive best friend, take over the movie as a motivational speaker. Or making Jar Jar Binks, every Gungan’s best friend, turn into a senator responsible for staving off intergalactic war. Hmmm...
Meesa think some ideas stink, even ideas from the highly venerated Pixar plant.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
When the spy movie takes over the action, the movie loads up on clever jokes and a nifty storyline involving a Land Rover that got lost during a daring world tour. Out of fuel, and taking a cue from the best survivalists, he distilled his own oil, survived the ordeal, and set up the World Grand Prix to market his new, green oil, Allinol.
With the World Grand Prix taking place in Japan, Italy, and England, and other action taking place in the U.S. and Australia, globetrotting fuels the fun. The sun never sets on the Cars 2 empire and sight gags once again play a role in the enjoyment factor. Now playing at the local drive-in: The Incredimobiles. There’s the popular Japanese airline, Samairai. One of the miserable cars is named Victor Hugo. And get a load of the hot spy sports car. Her name? Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer, The Pink Panther).
The end credits take the global appeal even further with a trip around the world that hits other must-see locations that the World Grand Prix and storyline(s) missed.
Major gripes aside, there is a definite business savvy at play in the global marketing and storyline of the movie; the movie industry is increasingly a global business and Disney recently achieved its highest worldwide gross ever with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Globally, it’s taken in north of $900 million, with $1 billion within easy reach. Less than a quarter of that treasure has come from the North American box office.
With that kind of booty in mind, what better representative can Americans ask for in front of international audiences than a dopey, rusted out tow truck with a heart of gold? Ambassador or embarrassment, it all depends on the point of view.