Friday, July 1, 2011

Cars 2: 5/10

After many home runs, Pixar finally strikes out
1 July 2011

Pixar is arguably the last remaining film company with a perfect track record. From Toy Story to Toy Story 3, each of their films had been met with grand acclaim and multiple Academy Awards. However, I can safely say the perfect track record ends this month. Cars 2 is a bafflingly disappointing movie that tastes even more bitter since its coming from Pixar, the makers of the best computer-animated films of all-time. Everything that has made Pixar movies range from decent to incredible to perfect was neglected here: from the piss-poor script, to the lack of heart, to the lack of humor, right down to even commercializing their film a bit with some awkward product placements and a multitude of new characters that provide nothing more than just providing more toys to sell. Cars 2 was totally unnecessary, and just didn't deliver in any way shape or form---except for the animation.

In Cars 2, we have this bizarre spy plot weaving in with a grand prix championship that takes place around the world. Without spoiling too much, there is a conspiracy going on throughout the grand prix and Tom Mater is sent on a mission to uncover who it might be. At the same time, it loosely threatens his relationship with Lightning. In terms of script, this was by far the weakest because there was no character development, minimal true conflict, no surprises, and it absolutely contradicts the lessons (mildly) learned in the original Cars movie. This movie was made purely for the kids as it offers very little subtle adult humor aside from all the snarly vehicle references.

I will never understand why Pixar felt the need to create this movie whose only purpose was to make money and merchandise the heck out of it. You would think after billions of dollars in revenue with original and clever stories it would be enough to keep their creative juices flowing while at the same time deliver a profit for Disney. But this film was easy to market, easy to distribute. And with that comes laziness, and it was all-too prevalent here. Cars was the film least necessary in the Pixar lineup to warrant a sequel, prequel, whatever. Just the fact that Pixar drove a movie just for profit sake heavily tarnished their credibility as an animation studio that e used to believe was focused in telling great stories in multiple ways.

Let's at least focus a bit on the positive. The voice cast was all back (with the exception of George Carlin and Paul Newman, of course) and with a few new voices in the mix. For the most part they did a good job, even though some didn't have much to work with, incredibly Owen Wilson as the main character Lightning being the main example. The animation was stunningly beautiful, but what else do you expect from Pixar? They are leagues ahead of the next-best animation studio, as their vehicles and settings were detailed down to a T. The action scenes were well-drawn out and have better cinematography as the typical action flick.

And now we shall go back to complaining. The movie felt a lot like Speed Racer: it was a decent racing movie but had a plot too convoluted for children, yet had a premise that was appealing mostly to the kids. Cars 2 suffers from this same fate, it has a spy storyline that complicates itself to a point in which the kids will be utterly lost, but still doesn't have the feel of a movie that the entire family can enjoy—its more a movie for younger boys, who will be utterly lost once the second act kicks in. The movie also doesn't dwell into deeper adult themes like previous Pixar movies like Toy Story 3, Up, and (especially) The Incredibles.

Bottom Line: Cars 2 is Pixar's first disappointment, and it hurts so much more because we know what the studio is capable of. What baffles me the most is the sheer minimal amount of effort to continue the trend and tradition of the preceding Pixar movies. Much like what happened with Indiana Jones 4 (which to this day I deny it exists), it deviated so badly from the formula of success that any strength it may have had is deterred by the fact that….we have seen so much better from that same staff. Cars 2 was pointless, redundant, lifeless, and just nothing like what we are used to seeing.

The original was subtly hinted to be a pet project of Pixar's leader John Lasseter, and the only reason we are even seeing a sequel is because its Lasseter's pet and because merchandise sales were the greatest for Disney since 1994's The Lion King. Let's hope this is just a speed bump and not a downward spiral, because I would hate to see less Up-quality films and more Cars 2-quality flicks. Maybe this will be a wake-up call for the company--especially if they don't win the Best Animated Film Oscar next year. In the meantime, prepare for a snorefest if you are dragged to watch this. Pixar, you finally flopped. Took 25 years and countless good memories, but it has happened.

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