5 Pixar movie posts ago, I mentioned how I didn’t really care much for Cars when I saw it way back, but I enjoyed it more the second time. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved the movie, but I could say the same for both A Bug’s Life and the next Pixar movie we’ll be looking at. But I at least enjoyed it enough that if I found it for a good deal, I’d pick it up. Preferably on Blu-ray of course, because regardless of quality, any post-Toy Story 2 Pixar movie looks fantastic in high definition. Anyway, I liked Cars more than I thought I would.
Wish I could say the same about Cars 2.
Cars 2, released in 2011, is the first movie on this Pixar blogathon that I’ve never seen before. While the first Cars primarily focused on race car Lightning McQueen and his much needed lesson in humility. Owen Wilson, who returns to the role in Cars 2, did a brilliant job at capturing Lightning’s arrogance in the first half of the movie, and his softer tone after he learns his lesson. I found Lightning’s maturation to be the strongest element of that movie. As much as I found Mater the redneck tow truck tolerable and maybe slightly amusing in small doses, he’s obnoxious and mildly annoying. Can’t say I’m a fan of his voice actor, Larry the Cable Guy. Well … he’s the main character in this one, and he’s a lot more obnoxious too.
Before we get into the story though, let’s talk about the movie’s development. John Lasseter, the director, said he was convinced of the sequel’s story while promoting the first movie around the world. “I kept looking out thinking, ‘what would Mater do in this situation, you know?’ I could imagine him driving around on the wrong side of the road in the UK, going around in big, giant traveling circles in Paris … dealing with the motor scooters in Italy …”
Early on in production, they decided to go the route of a spy movie within the Cars universe. This idea developed from a scene planned for Cars where Lightning and Sally would watch a spy movie at a drive-in theater, but the scene was never finished. Several members of the production team watched numerous spy movies to study the filming process and techniques. Lasseter watched as many spy movies he could to figure out the genre. While watching Ronin, story supervisor Nathan Stanton payed close attention to the car chases, studying how they were shot.
At this point it’s worth noting that three major figures in the making of Cars died between its production and the production of this movie. Joe Ranft, who both co-directed Cars and voiced two characters, died before the original released. George Carlin, the original voice actor for the hippy van Fillmore, died in 2008. For this movie though, the most important death was Paul Newman, the voice of Doc Hudson. Red (one of Ranft’s voice roles) shows up in Cars 2 without speaking, and they found a replacement for Fillmore, but they decided to turn Doc Hudson’s death into a minor plot point. They originally planned that to be the emotional core of the movie, but they eventually decided to make Lightning and Mater’s friendship the core emotional focus instead. Yet Doc’s absence is noted and felt in this movie, and I would call it one of Cars 2’s good points.
Although there weren’t too many huge advancements in animation technology between Cars and Cars 2, this movie is clearly more visually ambitious. There’s a much greater variety of locations, as Lightning is on a racing tour around the world. You see a futuristic looking Tokyo. You see Rome in all of its landmark-filled glory. You see London with the bell tower, and Paris with Gusteau’s restaurant from Ratatouille making a cars-ified cameo. There’s a bigger variety of vehicles in the movie as well, and being a spy movie, a lot of vehicles are heavily damaged in some action scenes.
The story of Cars 2 is a bit of a weird one. It’s a spy movie, taking place at the same time as a world grand prix racing tournament. After an argument between Lightning and Mater, the tow truck finds himself in the middle of this international conspiracy by older cars to discredit a new kind of fuel. They spy story does directly affect the racing tournament, but I won’t spoil how in case you feel like watching this. The emotional core focuses on Lightning and Mater. Lightning feels bad for some of the things he said, and Mater at times doubts himself, but eventually finds his confidence and what he’s truly good at.
Although this movie does have its good points, this is the first Pixar movie that I didn’t like. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I actively disliked it, but it was hard to care. While technically impressive, the fight scenes all went on too long for their own good, and they weren’t all that exciting. The two different stories makes this movie feel overstuffed at times, especially when there’s both a race and a fight scene at the same time. That’s not to mention how any time Mater is involved in such a fight scene, his over-the-top stupid man routine distracts from the action. There were several times I tuned out during these scenes.
I know that I’m not alone on this. Cars 2’s critical reception was very mixed, with an overall score of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, earning an average score of 5.5/10. It’s the first and only Pixar movie to receive a “rotten” rating on the site. The Wall Street Journal said “This frenzied sequel seldom gets beyond mediocrity.” Entertainment Weekly said, “Cars 2 is a movie so stuffed with ‘fun’ that it went right off the rails. What on earth was the gifted director-mogul John Lasseter thinking – that he wanted kids to come out of this movie with more ADD?” That’s not to say Cars 2 didn’t get any positive reviews. Roger Ebert called it a fairly complex story at a time when action movies were getting relentless and stupid.
Cars 2 also became the first Pixar movie to not earn an Oscar nomination of any kind, nor did it earn any Annie Awards (Pixar often cleans up there). But despite the movie’s mixed reviews, Cars 2 made a good profit. It earned $562 million on a $200 million budget, giving it what is still the fourth biggest opening weekend for a G-rated movie in history, ahead of both other Cars movies (Toy Story 3 remains number one).
I won’t go so far as to say this is a bad movie, but it feels like a stereotypical kid’s movie in a sense. If you like Larry the Cable Guy’s comedy you’ll likely find something to enjoy about this one, but most people will probably find him somewhere between boring and annoying. The movie itself is obnoxious, the action scenes are overly long, and there was nothing in the first Cars movie to suggest that Mater needed a personal journey. He seemed perfectly happy where he was, he knew when to tone it down, and he didn’t come across as that much of an idiot.
I’ll give Cars 2 this much though. Michael Cain and Emily Mortimer do a great job voicing the British spy cars.
Anyway, next up is Brave, which brought forth the only official Disney Princess who didn’t come from a movie released by Disney Animation Studios. After that it’s Monsters University, and then Inside Out. And as much as I’ve wanted to watch at least some of the Pixar movies released since, Inside Out is the most recent Pixar movie that I’ve seen. There are four more after that, and their 20th movie releases this June. I’m looking forward to the rest of this blogathon.