Sunday, July 3, 2011

Movie review: Cars 2


If you know anything about me or read this blog at all, you know I'm a fan of Pixar. Any post on filmmaking or storytelling or pretty much anything is often tied back to Pixar movies, because I find so much depth and heart in their films. I have loved every single Pixar movie out there, any of my friends can tell you that I rarely go to the theater for any other reason than to see the latest Pixar blockbuster. Just go read some posts like Bubble Wrap or The Color Conspiracy to see what I'm talking about.

But the Cars sequel directly contradicts Pixar's storytelling standard.


Pixar only makes a movie when the find a good story and want to tell it, and they only make sequels when they find there is more story to tell beyond a single feature. Cars 2 filled neither of this criteria. Cars only called for a sequel for one reason: marketing. The original Cars had made approximately 5 billion dollars in toys. I can prove this with my brother's extensive collection of Cars toys piled in the playroom. It started out with Lightning McQueen, but branched out into the most obscure characters that virtually every single character in the film has been made into a toy.

Cars 2 was only made to make more money, not to tell a good story. They forced a story together that wasn't asking to be told, that didn't naturally flow along with the original. Cars 2 didn't feel like a feature film, it felt like a really long short film.

I got nervous when I saw the trailers. Cars 2 is a spy movie? Set against the backdrop of the World Grand Prix? Non-stop action, explosions, and goofy lines from Mater encompassed the entire marketing campaign. I kept on telling myself, Pixar has never let us down. Why should they now? Nevertheless, I went into the theater with low expectations.

I have to say, with my expectations set so low, I wasn't disappointed. Actually, I sort of enjoyed it. The action was exciting, I laughed out loud several times, and the whole film was quite entertaining. But it didn't get any farther than entertaining. The theme of friendship was weak and poorly executed, and the plot was thin, relying on action and gags to keep the audience entertained. It was the last movie you'd expect to see from the world's #1 animation studio.

I think my main problem with the movie is that it's almost the opposite of its predecessor. The whole point of Cars was switching out of the fast lane and enjoying life. Cars 2 was all about racing through life as fast as possible and blowing stuff up. Okay, it didn't explicitly say that, but that was the message it brought across. The whole Radiator Springs gang was reduced to cameos, and Doc Hudson's role was cut out completely due to the death of Paul Newman.

This is one of the many reasons a sequel to Cars should not have been made.

His absence was explained in a 10-second long scene with Lightning and Mater admiring his Piston Cups and saying "Doc would've been proud." McQueen adds "You know, Doc said it's just an empty cup, but hey, it is pretty cool." This also contradicts the lesson Lightning learned in the original film, that trophies aren't what racing is about. But hey, it's cool!

The second big problem was the star: Tow Mater. Nearly all movie franchises focuses on one main character and continues to expand on that character in the sequels. For instance, Woody's character arc is continually expanded and developed as the trilogy progresses. But for Cars, the ending was nearly perfect. McQueen's character arc was so complete, and there wasn't much room for expansion. So they had to switch to the co-star, Mater, and expand on him. Unfortunately, Mater's absent-mindedness and dumb humor quickly gets old. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with Mater, in some ways he's more likable then Lightning. But Lightning is the backbone of the story. Without him, the story just doesn't work. The fact that McQueen's character arc was concluded in the first film was yet another reason that the sequel for Cars was uncalled for.

So as quickly as the filmmakers can manage, Lightning McQueen is bustled out of Radiator Springs to race in the World Grand Prix. At the same time of group of cars are brewing a conspiracy to take over the world, and Mater is mistaken for the spy and has to save Lightning McQueen from being blown up by the evil Professor Z. The filmmakers really push the limits with the cars world as the anthropomorphize planes, boats, and trains. Bringing cars to life worked, but I just didn't buy the boats.

The new characters in the movie are, I must say, quite interesting. The British spy car Finn McMissile has a seemingly endless supply of super cool gadgets and mad karate skills, and you never know what he's going to do next. Lightning's rival Francesco Bernoulli is absolutely hilarious and steals the show in any scene he's in, and he has some of the best lines in the whole movie ("Ah, Francesco is familiar with this...reaction to Francesco.")

The whole movie was full of Pixar cliches (yes, the cliches were all unique to Pixar) especially the ending, and by that time I was just waiting for it be over. I didn't hate the film, but I didn't walk out of the theater with the same sort of awe I have with past Pixar movies. It just was mediocre.

I'm pretty much on par with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Cars 2 is as visually appealing as any other Pixar production, but all that dazzle can't disguise the rusty storytelling under the hood.

Cars 2 wasn't a bad story, but it was unrefined. If John Lasseter had an extra year to knock out the bugs, it may have been a better film.

John Lasseter has been my inspiration for years--in fact, he was the inspiration for creating Snowtop Studios. But for Cars 2, he's apparently so in love with the idea of a spy movie with talking cars that he is blinded that his story falls short of the standard he is responsible for setting.

I won't say it isn't worth your time. Go and see for yourself and tell me what you think in the comments!

3 comments:

  1. I do see what the boah is driving at, as we say down South, It ain't the size o' the dog in the fight, its the size o' the fight in the dog. This dog was plenty big, but it didn't have the fight.

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  2. Cars 2 still rocks! The twist of the story is good, and the special effects are awesome!

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  3. I like Cars better than Cars 2, but I believe the studio did not disappoint because it still remains as a favorite among the children. I hope they bring back their trademark way of storytelling next year!

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