It's rated G, but the franchise now establishes that the cars can die. The cars can die from being murdered. The cars have guns. G. EXPLAIN YOURSELF, WORLD!
DIRECTORS: John Lasseter and Brad Lewis
I have been diagnosed with "antereolisthesis." It means the vertebra on my back aren't hitting quite correctly, causing an immense amount of pain. My wife is asleep in our comfortable bed and one of the few things that would make me actually feel better is lying down and going to sleep. I'm not doing that. At 11:11 (MAKE A WISH!) pm on a Monday, I'm writing far too many words about Cars 2, another of the films that I watched with my kids because they tend to lack standards. This rule about reviewing everything I watch is going to kill me and I might just be a masochist.
When I think of Pixar as a company, I think of them as geniuses. I love what John Lasseter has done for family friendly animation and I never think of them as having misstepped. Then someone will mention the Cars franchise and I audibly groan. I keep forgetting that the Cars films are part of Pixar Animation Studios. How do the same people who have made so many good animated films make these pieces of absolute garbage? If you haven't guessed, I don't like this franchise, but that's for good reason. The other movies that Pixar have made are so clever. They bend the mind a little bit and allow for this cool vulnerability to take place. Think about how smart the darned Toy Story movies are. I noticed a very subtle joke about the Pizza Planet truck that I never noticed before. It was in the background and I ask you to pay attention to the model of truck that it says on the user manual. That is great. There are so many of those moments in the other films. Even in the Pixar movies that aren't necessarily considered classics, like A Bug's Life or Brave, those movies still show a wealth of heart and creativity. The Cars movies are just plain dumb knock-offs of other movies and I don't get it. How can the same group of people just phone in these movies? It's not like there isn't stuff to really do.
First and foremost, there is no reason for them all to be actual cars. Toy Story has to be the closest in philosophy to the Cars movies and acts as a fantastic litmus test for what should and shouldn't work. The central premise in Toy Story is that everyone's childhood toys are actually sentient and choose the lifestyle of catfishing everyone on the planet. That's cool. As such, the toys have to interact with the mundane in a creative way. Through this interaction with the world around them, adventures ensue and emotional connections are made. In Cars, they just ARE cars. They are the only sentient beings on the planet (okay, all vehicles are somehow sentient), yet they live in a world that could only have been built by humans. They are surrounded by things that are clearly human sized and made for and by humans. Why are cars the only intelligent life on the planet? According to Cars 2, there's even frameworks for governments that mirror our own. There's a Queen of England car. No pun; just a Queen of England car. Why? There's a spy organization that has outfitted their cars with guns. Do they perform surgery on living cars to make them Robocop spies? Why? A car has a very specific purpose. They are made by humans to shuttle humans from place to place. The idea of car races is silly, at least in the way it is presented NASCAR-style. Shouldn't car races get as much attention as track and field stars? The very notion of sentient cars are dumb and shouldn't be outside the real of educational programming. At least Blaze and the Monster Machines acknowledges that there are humans around. There's so many problems I have with the even simple concept of a race of sentient cars that I can't get past, but I suppose that I should actually review the movie.
Cars was a knock-off of Doc Hollywood, a fairly forgettable movie starring Michael J. Fox. Cars 2 is a knock-off of The Man Who Knew Too Little, a good-but-forgettable comedy starring Bill Murray. Considering that Pixar is normally associated with innovation and cleverness, why outright steal these bad movies and make them about sentient cars? (I said I'd get over it. I lied.) The movie, first of all, isn't a very well structured film, but it fails at doing even its basic premise. For some reason, Cars 2 thought it important to comment on the espionage action movie by putting Mater in an international spy mission. During the course of this, Finn McMissile (yup) shows off that James Bond has had some rather absurd gadgets in his car over the course of his films. That's it. The gadgets that Finn uses aren't even funny. They are simply just things that a spy would use. If the movie's goal is to spoof the spy film, why not actually make a spoof. It feels like a one off story of a spy franchise that would never really take off because there is no substance. It follows a traditional, uninspired action movie plot and puts possibly one of the most annoying kids' characters front and center in the story. It's even odd that Lightning McQueen is in this movie because it just runs over tropes that the first movie already established. I don't know how I can stress that Cars 2's biggest fault is its complete lack of originality. When a cool character (the character is viewed as cool; not that I think he's cool) takes in the village idiot under his wing, what happens when the idiot screws up? There is a split between these two characters until the eventual emotional resolution. We've seen this story so many times that there's nothing to actually enjoy. "But this is for kids," you might say. These kids have seen it before. Just because the movie was made for children doesn't mean it isn't the role of the filmmakers to make a quality piece of work. I really do feel like the Cars movies are simple cash grabs. My son has Lightning McQueen PJs and loves the idea of him. But like I said, McQueen doesn't need to be in this movie. The movie is about Mater finding value in his stupidity.
Are we supposed to be applauding Mater? The very loose moral of this story is that Mater finds value in his hometown country-bumpkinery. (I'm totally coining that word.) Mater does mess things up pretty hard because he doesn't take two seconds to calm down and think of how he affects the environment around him. He's kind of selfish in his buffoonery, but the movie plays it up like that's cool. The moment that gets him in trouble, and I don't even have the respect to label this with a bold spoiler warning, is that he is not paying attention to the race that he was hired for. When he screws up McQueen's race, McQueen has a reasonable reaction to his shannanigans. Mater does not fit the requirements of a pit man and costs McQueen the race. That is Mater's job. But the movie is teaching kids that trying your best doesn't really matter and just being friends is the most important thing. I have lots of friends that I wouldn't trust to watch my classroom. Am I being unreasonable? No, because doing things right to the best of your ability is more important than making someone feel good. Friends are great, but that doesn't mean that they have to do everything together. Similarly, Mater continues to idiot himself into every situation and gets by with sheer luck. Somehow, he is able to gather his wits to solve a crime (that's obvious probably even for my three-year-old) that no one else has any insight into. There was no hard work on the part of Mater, just dumb luck and three-act structure. The only reason that Mater figured out who the big bad guy was involved the runtime of the film. There was no investigation or any kind of hard work. The film is teaching that it doesn't take hard work or ingenuity. It just takes stupidity and a good heart. Mater is a fun and positive guy, but that's not what kids should be taking out of a film.
The movie looks really pretty, I guess. The one thing that really works for the movie is the international setting. The first movie really overdid it with Radiator Springs, which gets a tad tedious. Having the cars travel from beautiful location to beautiful location does give the movie a little bit more production value that it might not have had before. I really didn't like the first movie, but I do remember a couple of jokes that really won me over, especially in the end credit sequence. I think that the look of Cars 2 far exceeds the first one, but the writing on Part 1 is probably superior. Not to say that it is good. I have yet to like anything Cars related that I've seen, but at least there was something going on. That's right! Paul Newman was in part 1. That's got something.
I'm sorry I'm a real Debbie Downer when it comes to the Cars movies. They just suck so hard and I find nothing entertaining about them. They seem so lazy and that's a bummer considering that the company that makes these movies make other way better movies. Maybe Cars is just meant for really young kids or people who like simple humor. I guess when you center the movie around Larry the Cable Guy playing Larry the Cable Car (not like something that takes you up a ski lift, but...you know. Like a car.) you get what you pay for. You know what I paid for with Cars 2? Nothing. I got it from the library. But I did lose two hours and I fought sleep just so I could write a review about another movie. *sigh*. I'm going to go to bed now and hope my back doesn't murder me on the way up. Good night.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.