Welcome to the Pixar Rewind! Over the next couple weeks, we at Rotoscopers will analyze every Pixar film ever, and what makes each one so great. At the end of the series, and after the release of ‘Inside Out,’ we will have a fan vote to determine which film is the best of them all!
Let’s jump back to 2011. Pixar just came off a hot streak, from Toy Story in 1995 all the way to Toy Story 3 in 2010. These two films, along with all the others in between, opened to almost universal acclaim and healthy profits at the box office. Pixar’s name became a seal of quality to just about every moviegoer. Pixar was at the top of Hollywood and they could make just about anything they wanted. What the studio wanted to make was Cars 2.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t what the world wanted to see. Cars 2 did make a large profit, but it didn’t garner the critical acclaim, nor the praise from audiences, that its predecessors enjoyed. Opinions differed in the details, as opinions always do, but the general consensus was that Pixar lost its touch and that it had become just another slick Hollywood machine since its acquirement by Disney.
So, now, we come to the million dollar question: Was the criticism justified? Is Cars 2 as bad as most people claim?
Well… let’s talk about it, shall we?
For those who may not have seen Cars 2 in a while, here are the basics of the plot. After he returns to Radiator Springs following a busy racing season, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) wants nothing more than to relax. However, Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) makes an angry phone call to a sports show after he hears Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), a hot-shot Formula One racer, criticize Lightning. Things escalate quickly, and Lightning ends up agreeing to compete in the World Grand Prix, a series of races sponsored by Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), who uses the event to promote his new organic fuel, Allinol. Lightning also agrees to take Mater along with him. During a press event, Mater is mistaken for an spy by two secret agents, Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Before long, Mater is swept up, along with McMissile and Shiftwell, in an effort to foil a plot, concocted by a bunch of “lemon” cars, to destroy the racing cars.
Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat. I like this film. I really do. There are a lot of good things that one can say about Cars 2, and I plan to say them. However, there’s a major flaw built into the film that keeps me from truly loving the movie. We’ll talk about that, too.
First, though, let’s make like John Lasseter and start by talking about the good stuff. The visuals are beautiful, for starters. Every setting is detailed and has its own distinct mood, from the small town nostalgia of Radiator Springs, to the techno-modern tone of the club in Japan, to the casino at Monte Carlo, to the sun-bathed streets of Italy, to everyplace in between. Much of each location’s style and mood is due to the impressive lighting and set design, both of which are impeccably detailed and atmospheric. All this adds a texture to the film that helps elevate the movie.
The plot is also well constructed and fast moving. I have to admit that the earlier plot description was really hard to write, and that’s a good thing. The plot twists with every scene; new details are constantly revealed and each scene in the film does a good job pushing the plot forward. As a result, I found myself engaged for most of the film. The movie also carries a certain air of familiarity; Cars 2 takes the basic elements you’d find in any James Bond film (or any spy story, really) and puts a unique twist on them, making them fit into the world that the Cars franchise has built.
Yes, the film is a perfect Bond pastiche, and that’s part of the problem. You see, Bond movies have always had a problem getting emotion into their stories (with the two brilliant exceptions of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Skyfall). The Bond films are always fun, but – except for those two films I mentioned – they’re pretty shallow. There’s a lot of gun play and explosions, but the characters are caricatures. Therefore, it’s hard to work up too much interest in their fates.
Unfortunately, Cars 2 falls to this same problem. The spy story is fun, but it’s backed up by a bunch of two-dimensional characters, both on the side of the good and evil. Finn and Holley are fun, but they don’t have much personality outside their jobs as secret agents. On top of this, I’ve never really liked Mater; he’s good-natured enough, but he also grates on my nerves. All three of the characters are somewhat unrealistic, so it’s hard for me to invest my emotions in them. The same goes for the bad guys of Cars 2; aside from the leader of the villains, the thugs of the movie have extremely shallow motivations that drive their actions, so it’s hard to take them seriously.
Ultimately, the big flaw of Cars 2 is that it has no soul behind it. It’s fun to follow the plot, and the visuals are lovely, but there’s no emotion driving the story, no real motivation behind any of the characters, and no heart. There’s lots of dazzle and excitement, but not much else. That’s fine, of course; there’s nothing wrong with a dose of dazzle now and then. If you’re looking for profound messages about the human condition, though, you might want to look elsewhere.
So, with that, we come back to the question we started with: Is Cars 2 a bad movie? No, not by any means. It’s good, pure entertainment, and, sometimes, that’s just what a person needs. It may not be the best film in Pixar’s list of credits, but it’s certainly not a bad film. Pixar hasn’t made one of those and, hopefully, they never will.
So, in conclusion, I’ll say this: If you have avoided Cars 2 for a while because you think that you don’t like the movie, you might want to give it another try. You might be surprised at how much you like it!
What do you think of Pixar’s Cars 2? Do you like this film?
More from the Pixar Rewind:
- Toy Story
- A Bug’s Life
- Toy Story 2
- Monsters, Inc.
- Finding Nemo
- The Incredibles
- Toy Story 3
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes