Monday, June 27, 2011

REVIEW: Cars 2 (C)

(dir. John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, 2011)

Regardless of what you hear, there is a lot to enjoy about Disney and Pixar's newest film, Cars 2.  But, in line with what you've heard, there's also a lot to not enjoy.  Much ado has been whispered and shouted in regards to the reason this film was made.  It's well documented (including in an hour-long documentary) that the original Cars was a passion project for director and Pixar creative master John Lasseter, and the film just happened to become a hit with children (if not the critical masses) and a merchandise Goliath.  So is the sequel to Pixar's least-favorably-reviewed film a project of passion or dollar signs?

Answer: It doesn't matter.

As with all Pixar films, we start with the adorable protagonists, erstwhile upstart and now reformed race-car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and stupid is as stupid does best pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy).  In the original, McQueen was the star, and in a curious and ultimately successful move, Mater has become the chief hero of the sequel.  Long story short, in the throes of a worldwide World Grand Prix race sponsored by alternative fuel icon Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), Mater is mistaken as a high-class spy and hilarity ensues; well, it almost ensues.

There are some funny parts.  A rather clever scene wherein Mater eats pistachio ice cream, only to find out he had really eaten a scoop of wasabi (you know, the things adults get and kids don't).  There are fun parts even; the races are visually stunning and the battle sequences are awe-inspiring.  A particularly strong opening sequence (seemingly borrowed right from the storyboards of a James Bond flick) gave me hope for the rest of the picture.  But it's the overarching aspects where the film falters.  There's no real emotional core, you struggle to really care about anyone aside from Mater, and there's no cohesively strong theme to the piece.  In the end, it's just a "see, your stupid friend can do stuff, if only by accident" story.  All new and old characters are bland and mostly forgettable, from the barely-there McQueen to the new Mater love interest Holley Shiftwell (voiced, presumably while napping, by Emily Mortimer).  New driving rival Francesco Bernoulli (a Formula-1 car voiced by John Turturro) is a recycling of Turturro's character from The Big Lebowski and Sasha Baron Cohen's foreign racing rival from Talladega Nights.  It was just...fluff.  Devoid of the heart and soul we've come to expect not only from Pixar, but from all good animated films.

Cars 2 feels so empty, even if it is full of color.  For all the disdain most give the original, I respect it for what it was.  It had heart, and that heart belonged in the characters of Radiator Springs, and the town itself.  Cars 2 takes half the lovable characters out of the equation and transplants McQueen and Mater to Italy, Japan, and London.  There's no love or connection with these cities; visually, they're amazing, but the characters have zero connection to them. And in a wanderlust sequel to a film that was originally all about the importance of a small town, this feels like a misguided ripoff.

I saw this movie with five children, four of which literally worship the ground all things Cars walk drive on.  They laughed a lot, and when we left they said it was the "best movie ever," and that they "loved Lightning."  And, in the end, I guess that's the point isn't it?  For animated films at least, to entertain children and take them to another world that's fun and where cars can fly.  So what if their parents, siblings, or film critics thinks the movie is stupid, they get a kick out of it.  For so long now, animated films have surprised us by not being just animated films, but something greater.  So when they're not, we're disappointed, and we miss the point of them to begin with.  GRADE: C

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