July 23, 2011

03.07: CARS 2

One of the many great posters from Eric Tan
The first Cars is, so far, the only Pixar produced film I have not seen at the cinema (I am none too keen on the proposed Monsters Inc prequel, Monster University either). It just didn't appeal to me in any way whatsoever. Oddly enough, it may be the Pixar film I have seen the most - by catching it on DVD or TV or had playing in the background somewhere. And it is a perfectly alright film, a nice enough paean to the "slow life". And it obviously made a stack of cash (both the film and merchandising) as here comes the sequel; a sequel that takes a hard right turn and accelerates away from the slow life and right into a less original (if well executed) espionage/mistaken identity riff.

I think it's far to say I was feeling pretty ambivalent towards the film, but heading in to the Sunday afternoon screening I was prepared to keep an open mind to proceedings. Things begin with British super-spy super-car Finn McMissile on a mission - you can get a good idea of it from the poster to the right actually. The entire scene is slick, fun and engaging super-spy stuff pulled off with that Pixar magic and yes, starring automobiles. In Radiator Springs, hot-shot racing car Lightning McQueen is back for some between-season chilling out when his good buddy, rust-bucket tow-truck Mater, wrangles him into a globe-driving race-off. McQueen brings Mater along (as he apparently doesn't have Mater at his racing events, despite the great work they all did helping him win at the end of Cars) and Mater promptly a) makes a fool of himself and embarrasses McQueen and b) gets himself involved in Finn McMissile's continuing mission. Cars 2 has the lovable sidekick from the original as the main character, while Lightning McQueen and his worldwide race-off is the B story.

What plays out with Mater and the British spy-cars is enjoyable enough with some good gags, but it never really ties into the race-off or Mater's relationship with McQueen. Or, it doesn't tie in as well as could be hoped. Everything looks astoundingly gorgeous but, with Pixar, I have come to expect more than just pretty visuals. Pixar have always prided themselves, quite rightly, on character and story. True, they've come to rely on the "mismatched buddies" formula a bit too often but every film has something at its centre. I just can't help shake the feeling that Cars 2 seems out of step with what I've come to expect from Pixar. Perhaps that's being too harsh, but when so many dreadful, brain-mush films are released each year its nice to rely on at least one consistently great studio. If this were a Dreamworks film from a couple of years ago, it may have been looked at more favourably. But even Dreamworks are doing better, with How to Train Your Dragon and Kung-Fu Panda being huge improvements story and character-wise.

Again, I fear I'm coming across harsher than I actually feel. Cars 2 is a fun adventure flick, with a few nice touches and laugh-out-loud bits. Yes, the humour is aimed quite distinctly at a younger audience, but the whole film is and I really don't have a problem with that. Frankly, even if Cars 2 is the absolute worst film Pixar ever give us, well, they (and us) are doing pretty damn great.  

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