Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Animated, Pixar
Opens locally Friday, June 24th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes, Rated G
Starring (voices): Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
Directed by Brad Lewis, John Lasseter (Toy Story, Toy Story 2)
The first film "Cars" is perhaps my least favorite of all the Pixar films. It was a good movie, and in comparison to the rest of the crap out there being served up to kids and adults alike lately, well, maybe I'm just being picky. It was a tremendous success, and spawned one of the greatest merchandising frenzies in recent years...do you have a Lightning McQueen soap dispenser yet?
Never having cared too much about the car I drive in, maybe I just can't get into it. But for me I think there is something lost when all of the characters in a film are inanimate objects...we're not asked to follow along with a furry little animal, or an animated fish even. I guess the Brave Little Toaster pulled it off, but he's the exception. No, these are mechanical cars, who drink oil from martini glasses and only seem to age as old as their make and model allows. It's hard to find humanity in metal.
Which leads us to "Cars 2," a sequel that I can atleast applaud in part for it's try at originality, although the movie misfires nearly as bad as my old Ford Tempo. It takes our beloved car characters from the first film and plants them in a new environment overseas, all over Europe. It mixes in the elements of James Bond-style espionage, since of course all cars with British accents must be secret agents. It contains the truly amazing and now seamless animated visuals that have come to define Pixar as a step above the others. It has moments, and has a lot of elements that surely will satisfy fans of the first film.
As for that element of originality I alluded to, it comes mainly on the choice to feature not Lightning McQueen, but his ole' pal Tow Mater, as the film's central character. Sure, Lightning McQueen is in the film, but his international race is only the backdrop for a story of spy-jynx and intrigue starring Mater. Mater gets mixed up with a conspiracy revolving around a new, organic form of fuel that looks to give cars that extra boost, replacing traditional fuel. He meets up with British spies voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer, and everybody seems to be enjoying the ride.
But it's a bumpy ride at best. Mater is the Zach Galifianakis of the Cars Universe...he's much better held to a supporting role than as the film's featured player. There's only so much redneck and stupid humor one can take before things become redundant, and if Cars 2 is anything, it's the same old drive around the block...I say that not to contradict my earlier statement, but to say that in terms of theme and plot and sense of humor, Cars 2 re-invents the wheel.
On the bright side of things, adults will enjoy portions of the film, and the overall theme of big oil as the bad guys. All of Europe's classic clunkers make up an axis of evil-doers that will give owners of those old lemons a good giggle. This plotline was lifted from one of my favorite old comedies, The Naked Gun 2 1/2, where all of the major energy companies got together to conspire against green technology. But if your idea of a Hugo brings to mind a character on Lost and not an old jalopy, some of this car-centric humor may fall short for you.
The worst part of "Cars 2" to me, is that of all the Pixar movies, these were the last characters that I would have like to revisit. How about checking back in with the guys from "A Bug's Life?" I was amazed when the movie began by flashing "25 Years of Pixar." Wow, has it been that long? Pixar has re-defined the animated film genre, and part of which was it's original storytelling. I'm sad that we've not only seen 3 Toy Stories, but now have a Cars 2, and another Monsters Inc. on the way. These sequels are still leaping lamps above the rest of the genre, but I'm just sayin.'
With "Cars 2" however, it makes taking a drive down memory lane all the merrier.
Note: Pre-Film, "Hawaiian Vacation, starring the toys of Toy Story." Not to beat the dead horse, but the customary "Animated Short" that precedes Cars 2 features no original characters. However, most fans will be happy that it does feature Pixar's most beloved family, that of the toys of Toy Story. This inventive, and very funny short film shows that the Toy Story toys may be the only group of characters that Pixar can't go wrong with. The short picks up after Toy Story 3, giving us affirmation that the toys ended up OK. When Ken and Barbie stow away on the little girl's Hawaiian vacation but are then left behind, the toys decide to re-create their vacation for them...leading up to Ken's first kiss with Barbie. "You mean they haven't kissed yet?" says Mr. Pototo Head before being elbowed out of frame. Now there's a scene of Pixar animation at it's best.
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