If I were to call our current age anything it would be the age of animation, this is solely due to animated films being the most universally loved of the generation. The two main sources of people’s affections are Studio Ghibli and Pixar. The latter is the source of my attention today as I look at their latest release – Cars 2. What we have here is the sequel that nobody wanted.It’s fair enough that Lasseter loves cars; this is not that what I have a problem with. What I have a problem with is anthropomorphized cars. Animals, Robots, any creature or creation that has a well realised world to inhabit makes for good cinema. This is something that the studio has a stellar past with, in everything from Ratatouille to Up, the world which their films inhabit are well written, crafted and developed. Whereas here the world these cars inhabit is far from well-developed, making this the antithesis to a Pixar film, whilst still being a Pixar film.
In Cars 2, the world is made up of machines, whether they are planes, boats or cars. This was fine in the first film as it was based in a world removed from reality. The same can’t be said for the sequel, its bad enough making a film that nobody other than the shareholders and John Lasseter wanted, but to base this story is quite another thing. Seeing this mechanical world set in real world places means I started to question the history of this world. For instance, how did machines (read: not robots) build these vast structures? Is this a post-apocalyptic world were only machines exist? I just don’t get it. Maybe I am over thinking it, but still this is an issue that disarmed any suspension of disbelief hereby making it impossible for me to engage with the film.
Getting away from my issue with the universes internal logic and to the story of the film and we come face to face with more problems. The story is divided between the race day drama and a child friendly riff on the 1960s spy genre. In this mash of genres, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has returned to radiator Springs after a successful leg of his career, winning the piston cup 4 times to meet his love Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Meanwhile there is a new competition to celebrate a new green fuel source (Allinol), the World Grand Prix. Elsewhere Mater gets dragged into the world of espionage and politics. That’s right, Cars 2 has a green agenda.
One of the greatest strengths of the first film came from the race day action and it makes sense to trade in the most successful element of the first film. If the film traded solely in race day tension and excitement that would be fine and this review would be far more positive. If this was the case this would be an innocent if innocuous sequel to the weakest Pixar film. It still wouldn’t have been a great film, but better that the mess we have here.
The other side of the plot and the one which takes up the majority of the running time is about a mysterious weapon that a nefarious collective have gathered and what they intend to do with said weapon. It starts decently enough with Michael Caine’s character forgoing some traditional James Bond style spy action, after that the tone and content becomes inconsistent at best. After a confrontation between Bruce Campbell’s Rod ‘Torque’ Redline is interrupted by Mater the film goes off. In this plot arc we have a torture scene, the murder of dozens of cars. Then later in the film, there is an implied joke in which Mater accidentally buys a Porno in his Japanese hotel room. This is a kid’s film that really struggles with its identity.
The icing on this cake is the most horrific thing and that is the main character, Mater. He was the most annoying thing about the first film and now we are subjected to him for the large majority of the film. Not only did I sit through a film whose logic I have issues with and a story that doesn’t thrill or excite in the way that either a Pixar or good film does, you also have to put up with the most annoying character in cinema since Jar-Jar Binks. To make matters worse the film was preceded by a brilliant Toy Story short which was better and had more room for development than this, the feature film that followed it.
I may not be in the target audience but I still know what makes a film good. You might say I am taking this too serious, well I say poppycock. It’s not just a film that alternates between a questionable violent spy drama and a kid’s film whose message is “be true to yourself because you have friends that love you”. It’s all very saccharine sweet and nice if a confused experience. Small children might get something out of this, but for everybody else out there – believe the bad press.