Cars 2: Gentlemen, Start Your Snoozing!
Ooh boy. This one hurts. Out of Pixar’s eleven previous movies, I’d given eight of them the coveted four-kernel ratings, while three of them (A Bug’s Life, Cars, and Toy Story 2) earned a three-kernel rating, showing that even their “worst” films were better than the others. Now, it is with the heaviest of hearts I report… the first… bad… Pixar film. Folks, it hurts me just to say it. It’s innocuous, clearly aimed at children, with very simplistic lessons and characters, and you could do far worse than take your kids to see Cars 2. But you could also do far better– like staying home and renting any of the previous eleven Pixar films. Hell, it’s the third best of three animated films in 2011 so far. I’m deeply saddened to tell you that Cars isn’t awful… but it’s boring.
Finn McMissile (Michael Caine)– not a clever spy parody name– is tracking down a camera that spies are getting killed for discovering. Along with his assistant, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer)– a very clever spy parody name– they search for the culprits at Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard)’s World Grand Prix. You see, Axelrod discovered that alternative fuel resources have real value in sustaining the Earth for the future, so he’s holding a series of races with the best cars in the world where they run on Allenol, a new environmentally-friendly fuel. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is there, where his friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is *ahem* in tow. Finn and Holley mistakenly believe Mater to be their American spy ally at the rendez-vous, and hijinks ensue from there. Messages are learned about being yourself, supporting your friends, and never forgetting that acting like a redneck in society is something to be appreciated.
Yes, you read that correctly. You see, Lightning takes Mater to a few sophisticated events early on, where Mater acts like a complete imbecile. Then, toward the end of the film, Lightning apologizes to Mater, saying he should always be himself. I reeeeeeally hope the kids young enough to watch/enjoy this film don’t take that message away from the film, otherwise in 20 years we’ll have a bunch of 30 year olds scratching themselves, farting, and drinking heavily at nice restaurants. Think I’m exaggerating? Finn also calls Mater at the end “the smartest car I know.” NO. NO HE’S NOT. This is the problem with making a film that becomes patronizing towards the most kid-friendly character– it makes everyone around him look stupid too. Mater is dumb and annoying; he’s a “good ole boy,” we’d say down South. That doesn’t mean he lacks all intelligence (Mater is great with cars) or that he has no heart or that he isn’t worthy of respect. It does mean that if he acts ignorantly, he should be called out on it, and he needs to grow up and begin acting like he’s civilized instead of the village idiot.
That’s also the main problem with making your supporting bumbling character your lead character. I thought Mater was charming and hilarious in the first film: perfectly used, perfectly executed, perfectly voice acted by Mr. The Cable Guy. In this sequel, several jokes sound directly out of the Trailer Park Comedy Tour script. “Wasabi?” “Not much, what’s up with you?” This is an example of the wit we receive in this film. Maybe after the Austin Powers trilogy and the Archer TV series, they passed on the idea of spy comedy one-liners, because they don’t even try to make Finn or Holley unique or funny in any way. In fact, outside of an Italian open-fender car voiced by John Turturro, there’s very little in the way of humor at all in this film… and the directors, John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, seem content in that fact. It’s the same old ethnic stereotypes from the first mixed in with more Mater.
Look, I really want to sit here and find some compliments, because it’s Pixar… but even the visuals, normally a high mark for Pixar, look overly simplistic compared to the rich colors and seamless action of Wall-E, Ratatouille, Up, etc. They have simply raised the bar for themselves too high. It’s been amusing the last two weeks watching people bend over backward to compliment the new Transformers film while dogpiling on this film, because the difference in quality and achievement aren’t great. It’s just the Pixar Standard is too high to allow a film like this to happen. The Pixar Standard has raised the standard of others putting out computer-animated movies. Dreamworks produced the Kung Fu Pandas and How To Train Your Dragon. Sony did Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. Fox did the increasingly-good Ice Age films. Illumination Entertainment began with Despicable Me. In order for Pixar to continue to kick the competition’s asses, they need to know every single film must be better than any non-Pixar film. And Cars 2 isn’t better than any of the films I just named. It’s harmless but mostly witless. Kids who have never seen an animated film by Pixar before will like it.