Broken down cars
Cars 2 is the 2011 sequel to Cars, with John Lasseter returning as director, and Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, and Bonnie Hunt reprising their respective voice roles. Michael Caine, John Turturro, and Emily Mortimer also star as new voice roles.
Here is something that you never hear: Pixar delivered a disappointing and unsatisfying film. I suppose it was only a matter of time because Pixar is run by human beings after all, and even the most talented human beings in the world aren't immune to failure. Sequels are a tricky thing, because they must not only follow in the footsteps of a previous work, but they also run the responsibility of expanding upon the previous work and not forget to be a good movie on its own. The first Cars was pretty polarizing and was definitely not on Toy Story's level, so it wasn't like the expectations were super high. The right question to ask, though, is out of all of the other non-Toy Story Pixar films before 2006, why was Cars the one to get a sequel? The film with the least interesting premise out of all of Pixar's pre-2006 installments was the one that got the green light for a sequel. The first problem is that you have a sequel that is attempting to follow up on a film that isn't overtly interesting in the first place. The second, and more egregious, problem is that the sequel that is Cars 2 is presented in such an incoherent and vapid fashion that it further diminishes whatever credibility that the Cars franchise had.
We have a plot that is a mixture of racing, action, and, um, espionage. Wait, what? Cars 2 is a spy movie? You'd better believe it, and if that wasn't enough, Lightning McQueen has now been reduced to supporting character. The story begins some time after the end of the first Cars movie. The Hudson Hornet has passed on, and Lightning McQueen is now out making a name for himself in the racing world winning several Hudson (formerly Piston) Cups. McQueen now lives in Radiator Springs alongside his car girlfriend, Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and his tow-truck best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). McQueen tries to enjoy some quiet time, but he is challenged by the hotshot Italian formula racing car, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), in the brand new World Grand Prix. The race was created by a car named Sir Miles Axelrod, the CEO and creator of Allinol, a corporation that sells specialized fuel to racers. McQueen decides to bring Mater along to the Grand Prix, but Mater's dimwitted antics at the race drives a wedge between him and McQueen. While McQueen deals with racing against Bernoulli, Mater accidentally gets himself involved in a sinister plot involving lemon cars and industrial espionage.
I am utterly confused. What in the world enticed John Lasseter and screenwriter Ben Queen to turn this Cars sequel into a spy story that doesn't even center on the main character from the first movie? The racing component is still there (albeit to a lesser extent) because racing is the upper limit of what you can do story-wise in a world where every living thing is a car. So for the sake of not being a rehash of the first film, they had to do something a little different than racing. I've seen enough animated sequels to get the sense that a sequel from Pixar or Disney or whoever else normally goes for simply expanding upon the world that was introduced to us in the first film. We learn about Shrek and watch him fall in love with Fiona in the first film, and in Shrek 2, we learn more about Fiona's family and where she came from. Toy Story 2 goes on an adventure much larger than Andy's neighborhood, and we meet new toys who become friends with Woody and Buzz. Cars 2, well, we do get to see our protagonists from the first film drive and race around the world, but, if you don't count any of the spy stuff, that's about it.
- There are a host of problems with Cars 2, but, thankfully, the film does not have a problem of being boring. It moves along at a steady pace and has enough action scenes to be, at least, mildly entertaining. The animation is as dazzling as ever, which is about the only thing in the film that mostly everyone agrees is good.
- Questionable spy stuff aside, the main low point of Cars 2 is the film's inexplicable decision to have Mater at the center helm. I have no quarrels with Mater over anything that he did in the first movie, but, man, I am all Mater'd out after watching this film. Much of the storytelling relies on Mater being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it all starts when Mater takes a trip to the bathroom while visiting Tokyo with McQueen. Mater gets a device that the bad cars want planted on him, and, from there, he has to be protected from the bad cars by British spy cars Finn McMissile (charmingly voiced by Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Finn and Holley eventually realize that Mater isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but Finn passes off Mater's buffoonery as secret genius. This then leads down a path in which Mater basically wants to prove that he's not a total dunderhead. It's Mater here, Mater there, freaking Mater everywhere! It's all about Mater and watching how good he is as an unintentional spy, because Mater's adventure in industrial espionage was DEFINITELY what we were expecting to see in a movie that initially builds itself up as a global race competition with Lightning McQueen. If it wasn't for the opening scene in which Finn inspects an oil rig, then there would have been absolutely nothing to give us a hint that this movie has a spy component to it.
Another question is this: Why Mater? Did Larry the Cable Guy threaten to give up being the voice role of Mater if John Lasseter and Pixar didn't give him a big pay raise and also not make him the essential star of at least one Cars movies? Was some head honcho at Pixar blackmailed by Larry the Cable Guy? I can't imagine how Owen Wilson was feeling about being shoved to the sideline even though he got top billing again. Actually, I'll bet it was Wilson that was getting blackmailed. Anyway, if John Lasseter and screenwriter Ben Queen were heavily insistent on giving Mater his own adventure, then Cars 2 would've been much better off as a spin-off of the Cars world like Planes is. You could probably call it, Later, Mater (I know, that sounds stupid) or something else similar.
The other bizarre thing about Cars 2 is its G-rating. This is a film with espionage, guns, and explosions. I would think that all of that violent and mature stuff warrants at least a PG rating. I have also read that some people, including Larry the Cable Guy himself, are insisting that Cars 2 didn't actually happen; it was all some weird dream by Mater. I certainly wish that Cars 2 was a weird dream. Then I could wake up and tell myself that the clunky rust bucket that I dreamt about wasn't real, and that Pixar had not actually delivered a lackluster film.
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