Ten Word or Less Review: Since when does Pixar aspire to be Dreamworks?
The making of Cars 2 surprised no one. Cars, though wildly unimpressive when compared to Pixar’s string of accomplishments, stood tall as one of the studios’ more resounding financial success stories. Three years after its release Cars toys still sold briskly off the shelves of retail giants. So because the kiddies couldn’t get enough of anthropomorphic automobiles at playtime Pixar assuredly charged ahead with something they don’t lightly do, a money mandated sequel.
A sequel didn’t have to be inherently vile. In hindsight, there’s a nugget of a great idea buried in Cars 2. Instead of putting our automobile characters in a familiar situation which would harken back to the prosaic first film, Pixar founder and Cars director John Lasseter would open up the universe these autos live in. We would not be confined to a race track and a small, off highway town where nothing happened. Cars 2 would envision the entire planet as a place built by and for automobiles. And even better, we’d jump into spy movie homage territory, full of dazzling action and Pixar’s playful reinvention of old scenarios. But something went wildly wrong. It was just one thing. The thing that has sadly turned into the linchpin of the entire Cars universe. Mater.
In Cars 2 we find Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson) relishing in an unparalleled run of success. He’s a champion, he’s saved a town from oblivion, has a good relationship with a nice girl, he’s got it all! He’s also got a rube best friend. McQueen’s friendship with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) seems like sympathetic obligation on McQueen’s part. Every other weekend, in between winning racing championships, McQueen has to go back to Radiator Springs to enjoy a round of cow tipping with his redneck chum. This relationship makes no sense. Do you really think Dale Jr. would go home on the weekend to shoot beer cans and watch wrestling with a simpleton cousin? This fundamental flaw in the story, a successful race car driver going out of his way to hang out with his IQ deprived, hillbilly friend, destroys the credibility of the story before it has even started. And things only spiral downward from here. Mater gets McQueen wrapped up in an international race competition because he can’t shut up. On top of that, Mater gets confused for being an American spy, so now Cars 2 is using what feels like a prototypical, asinine Adam Sandler plot to get around. But the pedantic plot isn’t the worst thing.
Cars 2 fails so horribly because it’s rooted squarely around Mater. Imagine a Star Wars movie starring only Jar Jar Binks, there sort of is one, and you’re almost where Cars 2 decides to go. A well-intentioned, good natured, nincompoop, Mater becomes the center of Cars 2 and the entire movie becomes unbearable because of it. Mater is the kind of character intended as small dose comedy relief, not the central focus of his own movie. Before you can say “Get’er done”, clueless Mater has shanghaied every scene and you’re stuck going on an adventure with a one dimensional, unfunny idgit. The spy part of the story would work like gang busters, the first scene of the movie is very promising, but none of it matters much because Mater is the crutch the movie chooses to hang itself on. Cars 2 follows the misguided logic that because Mater is stupid, and supposedly funny for the wee ones, we will willingly sympathize with him. Nothing could be further from the truth. When Lightening McQueen gets angry at Mater for ruining a race it’s completely justified. Mater’s clueless antics cost McQueen an important event and McQueen has every right to be pissed. But the movie insists that McQueen eventually feel bad for beating up on Mater. And though Mater is clearly a clueless imbecile, the well-worn, super smart British spy cars (Michael Caine & Emily Mortimer) never catch on. Who are we supposed to root for in a movie where everyone is so painfully dumb and emotionally backward? It becomes painful after a while.
It’s these juvenile, sitcom level , un-Pixar story devises which make Cars 2 such an endurance test. If there was the slightest bit of intelligence on the behalf of a single character, something Pixar specializes in, everyone in Cars 2 would drive as far away from Mater as possible and never turn around. But the kids like Mater, they want the toys, so we’re forced to deal with him. Cars 2 never lets up with its Mater centric antics and by the time it’s done you have no choice but to pray that Mater voice Larry the Cable Guy gets throat cancer. It may be the only thing to keep this hopelessly unfunny character away.
If the Dreamworks logo sat atop this production no one would have thought twice about the outcome, but this is Pixar. It may be just another harmless, dunder headed kids movie on one level, but this is the studio which spent the last 15 years redefining what an animated movie can be. For them to indulge in cheap, crass, money driven kiddie entertainment feels wrong on too many levels. I hope the backlash against this movie has been heard loud and clear and a decision resulting in garbage like this is never made again.