Pixar is generally thought to be the best animation studio in the world (if not, then one of, at least); especially in the past few years, we’ve seen some of the most innovative, emotional, and groundbreaking films ever offered to the medium (Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up). Despite their amazing track record, Cars was always the weakest link in Pixar’s chain according to both fans and critics. But what Cars lacked in positive reviews it made up for in dollar signs; Cars was (and still is) one of Disney’s biggest moneymakers ever in merchandising sales, earning the company billions of dollars in revenue. Knowing this, a sequel was inevitable, especially seeing as some of the recent films (like Up and WALL-E) were hard to make into toys, games, and bed sheets.
Cars 2 (and the Cars franchise in general) would be much better suited for a direct-to-DVD series. Despite pretty scenery, great animation, and Pixar’s usual level of care and detail placed into each frame, it just fails to generate that “Pixar” feel. The story follows Lightning McQueen, a bright red racecar hot off winning some cup from the first film, and his friend Tow Mater, a rusty tow truck hillbilly voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy. They end up having to go on another adventure together, this time around the world, for a big race against Francesco Bernoulli, a cocky Italian F1. All the while Mater gets himself thrown into a spy conspiracy involving cars against electric engines and eventually has to save his friend with the help of two secret agents, Finn McMissle (voiced by Michael Caine) and his partner Holly Shiftwell.
The script is juvenile, with many gags relying on Mater acting childish (lots of really flat fart jokes). Get ready for some lame car puns too (the worst being “Big Bentley,” the Cars version of London’s Big Ben); they are just as eye-rollingly awful as Mr. Freeze’s ice puns from Batman and Robin (“Hey everybody, CHILL!”). The spy plot involving the electric car conspiracy is your basic Saturday morning cartoon type of script, not at all like the tight, funny, clever story we saw in last year’s Toy Story 3. At least in terms of Pixar products, this is at the bottom of the heap.
The most unforgivable sin that Cars 2 commits is that [I think] this movie sends the wrong message to kids. Throughout the entire movie Mater can’t fit into other cultures, but instead of trying to learn the ways of others, by the end of the movie he “learns” that other people should deal with him and change the way they are. This moral would be fine if Mater wasn’t a complete jackass throughout the entire movie, causing his best friend to lose an important race and demanding more “pistachio ice cream” while at Tokyo (despite the chef’s multiple attempts to tell him it’s Wasabi, an extremely spicy sauce). I know much of Mater’s stupidity is meant for comedy, and I realize that it’s that hillbilly attitude that makes this particular character popular, but he could still have learned to be courteous, polite, or at least accepting of other cultures. His attitude is distinctly “American” in that he thinks the world should amend to what he wants to do, and the movie does nothing to challenge that – a shame considering Pixar is known for bringing up often difficult subject matter into children’s films. What could have been an interesting added layer to the movie, how the rest of the world sees Americans and American culture, is flipped upside down. Even the cars from the other countries are just displayed as stereotypical caricatures.
Although the action and animation was handled well, this movie won’t do much for adult audiences. There are probably worse kids’ movies out there, and I’m sure that little ones will love it, but Cars 2 is an obvious cash-grab for the studio. It’s a shame that Pixar did not craft a sequel that reached the heights of its other franchise, Toy Story. Hopefully with a Monster’s Inc. prequel on the way, the animation team will learn from their mistakes and in the future will keep churning out flicks with the high quality we’ve come to expect from Pixar.