Theatrical Review: CARS 2

Rudie Obias

by: Rudie Obias
June 24th, 2011

Writers: Ben Queen (screenplay), John Lasseter, Brad Lewis & Dan Fogelman (story)
Directors: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Cast: Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Joe Mantegna
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

What do you look for in a children’s film? Do you look for a movie that appeals to adults and kids alike, or do you look for something kids will enjoy and relate to? The new film from Pixar Studios, CARS 2, is the latter. CARS 2 is the follow-up to the 2006 film, CARS, a film that gained moderate box office success, as well as an equally mixed critical reception. Although this is a beloved movie for kids, most didn’t see it fitting for a sequel. Is CARS 2 a worthy entry into the Pixar catalogue?

CARS 2 is a story set in a mythological world, where everything in it is mechanical and there are no signs of organic life. Our protagonist in the first film, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), a car struggling with his own hubris as a Nascar race car, is now a supporting character. The lead in the sequel is Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the slack -jawed, hillbilly-type, buck-toothed tow truck and best friend of Lightning McQueen. While traveling the continents in a world’s Grand Prix challenge, Mater is caught in an international game of espionage between British intelligence led by Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) and an anonymous international crime ring. Half spy thriller and half Grand Prix racing movie, this film works, but leaves a very limited amount for an adult to enjoy. That said, this film is not sophisticated or nor it should be, this is why children under 12 will enjoy it.

To the film's credit, what CARS 2 does well is expanding the world that humanizes vehicles and other mechanical objects. It literally shows how these cars go to the bathroom, travel, fall in love, eat, and engage in socio-political conflicts. But to the dismay of any viewer above the age of 12, it deals with all of these elements in a very rudimentary way, thus never engaging enough to hold their interest. Being so base, this will remain a very boring and tedious outing for most, but for children, this is perfect.

Much is to be said about our protagonist, Mater. Many would compare him to the infamous JarJar Binks from STAR WARS: EPISODE 1, THE PHANTOM MENACE - an annoying, scene-killing, comic relief sidekick. CARS 2 feels like what we would get if JarJar Binks was the lead of a STAR WARS film. At times, he is annoying and grating but, at other times, a young viewer may find him to be endearing and funny. I believe the character and the voice acting from Larry the Cable Guy to be very serviceable and perfect for the world the filmmakers, John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, have created. There is a certain level of sympathy an audience would have with Mater, which is why it works when you want him to succeed.

Visually speaking, this film is a worthy entry in to the Pixar catalogue. Beautiful coastal lines into a vast gorgeous oceans as cars speed down a curvy racetrack, CARS 2 is a sight to see. The film has a certain international flavor and completely takes advantage of its settings. The 3D does add depth to the moving images, but again, most of the problems I have with 3D comes from wearing the glasses and the darkness of the images. The colors just don’t pop like they should, instead they are shrouded in the shadows created by clunky and distracting 3D glasses. It seems like the cars want to race off the screen but the limitations of the 3D technology keep the cars at bay.

It wouldn’t be summer without a movie from Pixar. Since 1995, Pixar Studios and Disney have been releasing instant classics like FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY 3, UP, and WALL-E. CARS 2 is not an instant classic. Their follow-up to CARS, released during the summer of 2006, has already garnered a low to mixed critical response. Some say it’s probably the worst film Pixar has ever released, while others would say it’s a fun thrill ride kids will enjoy. But does this constitute a pass for Pixar? I think general audiences will agree it’s not the best Pixar has to offer, but instead of an emotional heartfelt pay-off, it delivers an action-packed one. And maybe for CARS 3, Pixar can do better.

Grade: C-

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