Anyone who has seen a Pixar film knows that no one makes better movies for kids and their parents. Want to see an animated film about an overprotective, anxious fish and his insecure son? How about a film about a cranky, lonely hermit and an overweight “wilderness explorer” who find themselves depending on each other in a faraway land? Or what about a movie about the last robot on a decimated earth, and what happens when he befriends another robot sent to gather the only fragile piece of vegetation that has managed to push its way through the parched, dusty ground? I’ve just described Finding Nemo, Up and Wall*E, the now-classic “kids” movies that have spoken to audiences of all ages and won multiple Academy Awards in the process.
I would argue that the power and magic of Pixar is that they manage to tell adult stories with themes like over-parenting, loneliness, the importance of friendship, the importance of forgiveness and the power of community, while combining them with visuals and storylines that kids love, too. It’s an impressive feat, speaking to mom and dad, as well as their kids. Pixar rarely stumbles in their mission to pull off depth and entertainment in the same package.
I guess that’s why I’m a bit confused by Cars 2, the latest film from director, writer and Pixar founder John Lasseter. I will say right now that I didn’t see the film’s predecessor, Cars, and therefore I may be missing a key emotional ingredient in this new film. However, Cars 2 still left me wishing for the classic Pixar cocktail of depth and entertainment, since it seemed to be mostly about car racing, chase sequences and the Mob.
Cars 2 begins with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returning home to Radiator Springs and his best friend Mater the Tow Truck (Larry the Cable Guy) after winning four Grand Prix races. He’s ready for a break, but Mater inadvertently gets Lightening caught up in a rivalry with Italian Formula Racing Car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). They will be competing in a race sponsored by former oil baron Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), who has come up with an alternative fuel that he insists all of his racers use. Lightning reluctantly agrees to bring Mater along to Japan and Europe for the race, and the uncouth Mater humiliates him accordingly.
If you don’t care about the plot I’ve just outlined, neither did I. Add to this a James Bond sub-plot involving the voices of Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer, as well as a Mob convention, the Queen of England, Formula One races, visits to Tokyo, Paris, Southern Italy and London, and you begin the get the picture. There is so much crammed into this movie, not to mention that the characters you’re trying to emotionally connect with are cars, that I found myself yearning for fish, cranky old men, Boy Scouts and robots.
Buried deep in the messy, complicated plot of Cars 2 there is a message about friendship, and how we should love our friends no matter how much they embarrass us. But is that really a message worthy of an entire Pixar film, and two hours of my time? Yes, the effects are impeccable. But the sum of Cars 2’s parts is not up to snuff.