27 July 2011

CARS 2- Review

To put this mildly, the first Cars is no longer this studio's weakest outing. To put it in a different manner, Pixar Animation Studios have come out with their first cash-grab film; a sequel to the property that's netted them more toy revenue than even the series in which all the main characters are actually toys. I'm not amongst those lining up to shit on Pixar for Cars 2, but it does feel like the film shat on me.

Lightning McQueen is now a four-time Piston Cup winner, looking forward to a summer spent with his best bud, Mater, in the idyllic small town of Radiator Springs. In a move that's less Toy Story 2 and more Mr. Bean 2, the action moves abroad when Mater ropes McQueen into the car-niverse's first World Grand Prix. The races will run on Allinol, a new alternative fuel about which British spy-car Finn McMissile has his suspicions.

For all of its flaws, I don't believe Cars was a bad movie. There was the unfortunate inclusion of Larry the Cable Guy as Mater, a character that kids seem to have taken to their hearts, but he wasn't a huge part of that first film. Until very recently, it was easily Pixar's least good film, but it got away with its rampant anthropomorphous traffic jam by being a contained story. Set largely in a small town and harkening back to simpler times, it wasn't without its charm.

Both of those mitigating factors go out of the window when you make a sequel that's more Dr. No than Doc Hollywood, broaden the small town into an entire auto-planet, and put the idiot tow-truck voiced by the private-schooled millionaire racist front and centre. But let's start with the broadened focus. Extending the world of Cars from Radiator Springs to an entire planet requires as much thought and creativity as you might usually expect from Pixar, and so that sense of progression is notable by its absence.

One of the main plot points in this film involves fossil fuel, and how Allinol is supposed to be a viable replacement. So does the evolution of the species in this universe go from a monkey with wheels to a car? When did dinosaurs ever exist in this world of Christines and Herbies? These things bear overthinking entirely because they're so thoughtless. The level of humour here is such that when we visit Cars' London, there's a certain big clock called Big Bentley. Hur hur, that's funny, right?

I certainly don't dislike Cars 2 because it's aimed more at kids than Pixar's recent output. I dislike it because paradoxically, for a film that has been built from the ground up, using 1s and 0s, with Pixar's name in front of it, it feels so lazy. Pixar's usual approach to sequels is to change up the genre a little and freshen the characters up. Toy Story 3 is a prison escape movie, and Monsters University promises to be a college movie. Cars 2 is a spy movie, but Pixar's already done that, in The Incredibles, but by contrast with that film, this one condescends to kids in a way that's really just unforgivable.

Still, nothing could be as appallingly misjudged as the increased prominence of Mater, whose arc in this movie tells him that it's OK to be stupid to people all over the world, because he's just being himself. No, Jesus, please! Don't be yourself! Change! Worst of all, the voice behind this character belongs to a "comedian" who should never, ever be given a platform in a family film like this. The gag about ordering porn on hotel on-demand services proves that. Neither does it help that most of his dialogue is followed by "Hur hur, that's funny, right", in the offensive cod-Southern accent that Larry the Cable Guy has affected. Wrong, Larry. It's not funny.

Like Mater, most of the other characters are based on the broadest possible stereotypes, including, sadly, Michael Caine as McMissile. His main character trait is "British", just as Mater's is "Redneck" and F1 car Francesco's is "Italian". It all pours into that feeling that this has not been thought through, more suited to be shown in Toys R Us than in cinemas that previously got the likes of Toy Story, The Incredibles or Up. Here's the thing though- Cars 2 isn't just a bad film in comparison to those other, better Pixar outings. It's just a bad film.

In all honesty, while Cars 2 might be below Pixar's usual standard by a long way, it's still not entirely awful. The visuals are as stunning as usual, there's some pretty inventive action and even a couple of moments that are actually worthy of a chuckle. But really, the script is terrible, and there's almost as little context to all of the visual brilliance as in your average Transformers movie. Yeah, I went there. Mater might be a character who kids love, but hey, kids are wrong, and here's hoping that any hope of Cars 3 breaks down somewhere during development.

Cars 2 is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.

On another note, it's worth pointing out that the main attraction of this film isn't the feature itself, but the short that precedes it, Toy Story- Hawaiian Vacation. If Pixar only come out with one feature film a year, I'd really rather it was something original, and this enjoyable return visit to Bonnie's new toys actually shows that Pixar's pre-feature shorts are the perfect place to revisit characters, rather than in full-length sequels. If we really have to see more of Mater, I hope it would be there instead, but I look forward to more Toy Story toons.
If you've seen Cars 2, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Adler Ng said...

really good review Mr. Prophet. it just goes to show that Pixar maybe didn't have to make the sequel. anyhow, lets hope the next Pixar movie would be much, much better!

Mark said...

Well, it's going to be an original at least, so fingers crossed. Thanks for commenting!