28 July 2011

Movie Review: Cars 2


Cars 2
2011, 106mins, U
Director (s): John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Writer: Ben Queen
Cast includes: Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Owen Wilson, Emily Mortimer, Franco Nero
UK Release Date: 22nd July 2011

I’m one of the few who believes 2006’s “Cars” is worthy of the Pixar label, most disregarding it as a clumsy and underwhelming addition to the studio’s catalogue. The picture maybe isn’t as distinctive as “Toy Story” or “Finding Nemo”, but it is modestly amusing, well animated and appropriately cute. A shame the same can’t be said for its sequel. “Cars 2” is easily the worst film Pixar have ever produced, in fact it’s possibly the first certifiably bad movie they’ve ever made. The only positive the follow-up adopts from its predecessor is the sublime animation; everything else is several gears below adequate, never mind inspired. The jokes are juvenile and stale, whilst the storytelling clunks along with no energy or urgency. It’s truly dispiriting to note, but on the back of “Cars 2” Pixar are now a genuinely fallible creative force.

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has returned to Radiator Springs after a lengthy and successful racing season, again reunited with girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and moronic best buddy Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). With the World Gran Prix beckoning, Lightning decides to take Mater along for the ride, the duo arriving in Tokyo to partake in the competition. However Mater’s simplemindedness soon lands Lightning in trouble, leaving their friendship on the rocks. Feeling dejected and guilty, Mater accidentally becomes involved with British agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), the operatives mistaking Mater for one of their own. Soon the bumbling tow-truck is thrown headfirst into a world of intrigue and espionage, aiding McMissile and Shiftwell as they attempt to halt the plans of a devious and mysterious villain.

There’s a very clear reason why Pixar have decided to expand on this particular universe, and that’s merchandising. The original 2006 picture turned respectable coin but was hardly from a box-office standpoint one of the studio’s biggest hitters, yet in toy stores the movie became a phenomenon. Such mercenary incentives carry over directly to the sequel’s quality, Pixar forgoing artistic ambition at the behest of selling lunchboxes, action figures and stationary. There’s a real lack of craft evidenced in “Cars 2”. Even when you overlook the crummy screenplay, there’s still a myriad of technical problems, including unsure direction and very flat editing. The CGI still looks tremendous, but other technical attributes are sorely lacking, tainting the picture with an unflattering aura of amateurishness. To think that John Lasseter, the genius behind the first two “Toy Story” flicks, had a substantive hand in this is stunning. Even from a superficial standpoint “Cars 2” isn’t particularly well put together.

In “Cars” Lightning McQueen was the lead, but “Cars 2” is determined that Mater should dominate proceedings. The dopey tow-truck character was amusing comic relief in the initial adventure, but with extended screen time he only becomes annoying. “Cars 2” forces its unwelcome central figure into all manner of unfunny slapstick situations, occasionally resorting to silly faces and botched toilet humour when the other facets start to flag. There’s very little wit here, instead Pixar have designed “Cars 2” to appeal to the youngest and broadest audience possible, forgoing cleverness to instead tickle your average nipper’s preference for potty jokes and acute bathroom based embarrassment. I’m not going to claim I never laughed (I believe I chuckled twice), but given the high watermark Pixar have set themselves in the past, such a ratio isn’t good enough.

The shift to spy based shenanigans doesn’t work, especially given that the plotting is so predictable. Mater stumbles into all the fish out of water scenarios you’d expect (and none you wouldn’t), whilst Emily Mortimer and Michael Caine are obviously gunning for easy cash. Not that McQueen’s Gran Prix storyline is much more invigorating, but at least the race sequences involved in that section have some energy, something Mater’s sleuthing perilously lacks. The attempt to embrace a different tone is clearly genuine, but it’s badly fumbled thanks to the clumsy application of an already suspect script. I did admittedly enjoy Michael Giacchino’s funky genre referencing musical score, but that’s about the most pleasure “Cars 2” provides. It’s a misjudged and wearisome feature, placing adding pressure on Pixar’s next effort “Brave” to redeem the outlet in 2012. Here’s hoping “Cars 2” represents the first, and last time Pixar deliver something this poor.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


Sebastian Gaydos said...

Did you rate the movie "D"? Well, the kids must've loved it though. I mean, how can you not love Lightning McQueen and Mater? They're such an adorable bunch!

Tari Ledsome said...

I agree with Sebastian. Though the movie wasn't perfect, it still brought smiles to children's faces. At the end of the day, that is what children's movies are all about.

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