The Culture Beat

June 28, 2011

Movie Review: Cars 2

Filed under: Movies,Uncategorized — Alex @ 1:50 am

After an unprecedented string of 11 hit films, produced by a company celebrating its 25th birthday, Pixar’s Cars 2 will be sure to be enjoyed by the many small children who love Lightening McQueen and his friend Mater the tow truck so winningly introduced in Cars. That paean to the virtues of communitarian life in the slow lane in the small towns far off from the interstate is one of my favorite Pixar films. The sequel plunges the main characters into an automotive version of a James Bond film, which turns out to be as much of a gimmick as the many built-in gadgets employed by one of the new characters, Finn McMissile, an Aston Martin DB-style British spy voiced by Michael Caine. In fact, for the first time in its history, to my chagrin, we see a serious narrative misfire from Pixar as it opts for blockbuster bloat instead of heart, smart, and charm.

After four racing victories, Lightening is back at Radiator Springs taking it easy and, though he enjoys hanging out with Mater, the hick truck buddy sometimes monopolizes his time when he’d like to be with Sally, the pretty blue Porsche. When McQueen accepts a challenge to compete in an international three-race tournament he reluctantly allows Mater to come with his crew. But soon Mater is unknowingly caught up in an international plot involving spies and the undermining of a renewable automotive fuel source. It’s here that Mater become the actual lead, an innocent doofus abroad who winds up recruited by McMissile who thinks his hayseed behavior is his misleadingly effective front. As the plot rolls from Japan to Italy to London, the more-dense-than-ever production design finds many funny ways to show what a planet of vehicles would look like.

As ever, Pixar’s wizards create gorgeous set designs and clever characterizations but this may be the most characters ever in the studios film and with the heavy plotting for the intrigue and action, it may also be the hardest for small kids to follow. In past films like Monsters Inc. and Wall-E, environmental/energy themes stayed in the background of the narrative, here they jump to the front, trotting out [SPOILER ALERT] the worn out and simplistic device of evil oilmen intent on preventing alternative fuels in order to ensure their control of energy reserves.

By the climax of the film, symptoms of sequelitis have set in, the chief of which is the layering on of far more action sequences than necessary, apparently motivated by the supersizing mentality that has sunk so many sequels, like Spider-Man 3 or Pirates of the Caribbean. Pixar’s unique scripting process involves the freedom of anyone on the production team to put on the brakes and criticize the narrative construction, which is why every film has been a gem–until now. And that this was directed by Pixar’s creative maestro John Lasseter is even more discomfiting. I trust the many negative or critical reviews of the film will be a wake-up call for the team to ignore whatever pressures from Disney to churn out blockbusters to enrich their coffers and draw kids to the Pixar attractions at theme parks. Last year’s beautifully realized Toy Story 3 showed what a sequel should be, story in the service of character and theme, not sensation and spectacle.

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