I have such high regard for Pixar and its creative team, led by John Lasseter, that it actually hurts to knock one of their movies—something I’ve never done before. But then, I’ve never gotten a headache watching any of their previous films. Despite
having beaten the sequel curse by making Toy Story 2 and 3, I’m afraid the studio has succumbed with its latest offering, Cars 2.
Let’s begin with what is normally the studio’s bedrock of strength, storytelling. Because there is no “leftover” story to tell from the original Cars, this one leaves the town of Radiator Springs and most of its denizens behind, choosing to go globetrotting as Lightning McQueen participates in a series of—
—Grand Prix races overseas. He’s goaded into this by his good buddy, Tow Mater the tow truck, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, and therein lies my biggest problem. I’d rather listen to chalk on a blackboard than spend nearly two hours with Tow Mater, who is in fact the leading character in Cars 2.
Even that sorry fate might be ameliorated if there were a solid story to hang onto, but there isn’t. In fact, the narrative of Cars 2 is so cluttered and confusing it’s actually hard to follow, right up to the end. Is it about a bad guy who wants to put gas-powered cars out of business, or a good guy who wants to introduce clean-energy vehicles, or a pair of spies who are trying to catch one or the other, or something else altogether? (I did get the message about friendship and loyalty.) I’d hate to be a parent of a child, trying to answer his or her questions about what’s going on every few minutes.
On the other hand, if your kid loves watching cars race around tracks really fast, or has a short attention span, Cars 2 may be just the ticket. It never stops moving; you just don’t know where it’s moving, or why.
Cars 2 opens with a sequence that parodies James Bond movies, featuring a slick sports car voiced by Michael Caine. That’s good for a smile, but it wears thin as the movie goes on and on; worst of all, it’s unclear whether the Caine character and his compatriot, voiced by Emily Mortimer, are good guys or villains.
Naturally, the animation is first-rate and the various settings are pleasing to the eye—although it’s a bit odd to see the cars outside of their own universe in man-made world capitals. There are punny moments of dialogue and sight-gags to match, but they exist in a vacuum without a story that’s clear and characters who matter. The fact that the film takes nearly two hours to unfold doesn’t help.
At a time when other studios have mastered the art of CG animation, Pixar should play to its strengths, and this movie doesn’t. What a shame.
Am I being too hard on a movie that’s out to entertain kids? If I am, it’s only because Pixar itself has set the bar so high in this field.