Imagine a world of living cars,
With windshields for eyes and mouths in their grills.
Now picture that some are elite racing stars,
And some are so junky, they’re fit for landfills.
Okay, so you got it? That’s good. Picture now
One racecar is cocky and needs a good lesson.
He’s stuck in a small town, which helps him somehow
Find more happiness than what he had success in.
You with me? All right, after that, visualize
A worldwide grand prix and an evil car plot,
And British car spies to take on the bad guys
And a tow truck that helps doing what he ought not
And maybe explosions and one car that flies.
The racecar’s there too, as a mere afterthought.
Wait, where are you going? No need to be cruel.
It may not be perfect, but it will look cool!
MPAA rating: G (PG would probably be better, since cars are actually killed in this one)
Before I review Cars 3, I thought I should get to the one Pixar film I haven’t covered yet, the black sheep of the Cars franchise and Pixar in general, Cars 2. Up until 2011, it seemed that Pixar could do no wrong, which I can say as someone who still greatly enjoys the first Cars, even if it is a rip-off of Doc Hollywood. Yet the first non-Toy Story sequel in Pixar’s lineup proved to be quite the mixed bag; it remains the only Pixar movie to have a “Rotten” score of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes. It follows Lightning McQueen on a worldwide racing grand prix, which is threatened (and overshadowed) by an evil cabal of lemon cars that only British secret agents and Mater can prevent from fulfilling their heinous plot. Whereas other Pixar films utilize inspiration to tell charming and relatable stories, Cars 2 is inspiration run amok and not really in a good way.
Cars established the world of sentient automobiles that has become Pixar’s biggest cash cow, and despite the outlandishness of its surface concept, the actual events of the plot were fairly down-to-earth, urging racing hotshot Lightning McQueen to slow down and enjoy the ride. By incorporating international espionage and globe-hopping plots into its world, Cars 2 is like director John Lasseter’s personal fan fiction, saying instead to speed up and enjoy the ride. The world of living cars takes a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to not ask questions like “Who builds the cars?” or “How do they do things that require hands and manual dexterity?” I was able to put such issues aside for the first film, but with James Bond-style gadgets and visits to different countries and car ethnicities, the suspension of disbelief is seriously strained here.
And that’s on top of its other issues. While Lightning and all the other characters from the first film are still present (minus Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson, who is implied to have passed away), Cars 2 puts Mater front and center. I enjoyed Larry the Cable Guy’s bumpkin tow truck in the first film as another humorous member of Radiator Springs, all of whose inhabitants served as a good-natured contrast to Lightning and his crowd. Yet there’s such a thing as too much Mater, and his oblivious ineptitude grows grating when it becomes the main course, particularly as moments of mistaken identity pile up to make the British spies assume Mater is an American secret agent. I could tell Mater’s character here would be overbearing early on, when he spends the whole day with Lightning and then acts all sullen and gloomy when Lightning wants to spend some alone time with his girlfriend.
Worse still is how Mater’s character is tied into the film’s message of not condemning one’s friends for who they are or wishing them to change. Such a moral could be good and worthwhile, but it just doesn’t work when applied to Mater, who consistently acts like a fool in public and causes Lightning to lose a race. When Lightning gets upset, he’s justified in being upset, yet he’s the one who eventually apologizes. The film doesn’t seem to recognize the difference between changing who you are and behaving properly in different circumstances. Mater even comes to realize how he looks to other people, but despite his feeling bad, it doesn’t really lead to any insight or change on his part.
Add to all that smaller problems, like the light political jab of making “big oil” the bad guys and hailing alternative fuel as the greatest of breakthroughs. Plus, there are numerous scenes that just feel rushed and poorly written, especially toward the end, like the sudden confirmation of Mater having a “girlfriend” or Lightning totally misconstruing Mater’s warnings while simultaneously forgetting that he’s right in the middle of a race.
So much negativity, but I don’t mean to bash Cars 2 like some low-rent DreamWorks movie. There’s still fantastic animation and ample imagination and humor on display, even if a lot of it consists of car-related puns. I may object to the secret agent plotline on a logical level, but it still offers some genuinely fun action sequences and eye-candy explosions. Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer are perfectly cast as the British spy cars who manage to mistake Mater for an undercover agent, and there’s cartoony amusement to be had, though the James Bond-ish elements make me hope that The Incredibles 2 works better than Cars 2 since they at least fit well into that superhero world. In conclusion, Cars 2 may not be good Pixar, but it still entertains if you don’t think about it too much. In fact, it’s probably more entertaining the less you think about it.
Best line: (Finn, played by Caine) “I never properly introduced myself: Finn McMissile, British Intelligence.” (Mater) “Tow Mater, average intelligence.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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