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‘Cars 2’ Doesn't Follow Through on the Pixar Promise

If you were looking for an antidote to a Transformers weekend, this might not be your best bet.

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.

Debra Mangum July 02, 2011 at 01:47 AM
See Cars. Try to put fresh eyes on, meet the characters, get the back story. You won't like Cars 2 any more than you did, but you will see a Pixar classic. Pay attention to landscape details. My 11 year-old son and I watched Cars 2 yesterday. We were alone in the theater and we laughed, made loud comments, laughed, hid behind our hands when Mater was screechingly embarassing, crunched popcorn and slurped soda. Great summer movie experience for us. But it certainly was not Wall-e, Up, Nemo. Thanks for the review, Lis. I am curious: Did you see Toy Story 3?
Lis Peery July 02, 2011 at 03:53 AM
I know... I should have seen Cars before I reviewed this movie. My bad as a reviewer. I agree with you on the landscape details, and all of the artistic details in general. It's an incredibly impressive film technically. I guess my problem is that I just didn't connect with any of the characters the way I'm used to doing with a Pixar film. Mater, who ends up being the hero of film, is unfortunately totally annoying, and I just wanted him to stop talking. I mean, does Larry the Cable Guy really sound like that? And if so, does he have any friends/a wife/loved ones left who can stand to hear him whine? There's a fine line between amusing and annoying, and I think Pixar inadvertently crossed it. All I wanted was for Mater to shut up, which I'm pretty sure isn't what you what you want an audience to feel for your hero..... Thank you, again and endlessly, for your thoughtful and smart comments. I probably would have liked the movie a lot better if I'd been in the theater with you, your son, a bucket full of popcorn and lots of candy.
Richard Jordan July 02, 2011 at 05:10 AM
But what'd they say in the ladies room???? Always LOVE your reviews, Ms. Peery!!!! Your ardent admirer, Richard Tyler Jordan rt-jordan.com
Lis Peery July 02, 2011 at 06:12 PM
Richard, there were only three of us in the theater, and no one but me in the Ladies Room. Hopefully, next week I can oblige you with your favorite part of my review. :) Thanks for reading the reviews so faithfully.
Lis Peery July 02, 2011 at 06:14 PM
I will definitely see Cars now, since I'm assuming there won't be as much of Mater in it. Honestly, his voice almost drove me out of the theater. I did see Toy Story 3, and I think it's time for them to put that franchise to bed. I thought the best part of the film was the Ken and Barbie storyline. What did you think?
Renée Andd Logan July 03, 2011 at 04:46 PM
I definitely was disappointed with Cars 2! Cars 1 though, is a very good movie, and makes the message that is to be delivered from it, very easy for children to understand. My son is Obsessed with Cars! He could watch allll day! (And he has a very short attention span, he's only 2!) To be honest, I watched it tons of times too! I loved it! We were very excited for Cars 2 to come out, and I took my son to see it. I don't think it it a good childrens movie at all. It has more of an adult plot line, and I just didn't think it was age appropriate at all!
joan foley July 04, 2011 at 02:45 PM
I have promised to take my grandsons to Cars 2 when they visit and am grateful for your "heads up". We will still go but my expectation will be to be entertained more by their reactions than by the movie itself. Thanks! Keep up the good work.

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