My first post ever to this site was the ranking of Pixar throughout the years. The first Cars was in last place, with the main points suggesting a lack in innovation or imagination, despite having top notch animation. So when I watched Cars 2, the first sequel to a Pixar movie after the beloved Toy Story franchise, I was ultimately disappointed for the same general reasons. And even though I used the word disappointment, I can’t say in itself that Cars 2 was a bad movie, because in all reality it wasn’t bad for an animated movie. In all honesty, it quite frankly beats most other animated movies in terms of story and animation itself. For a Pixar movie however, it lacks the magic and storytelling that usually transcends me to a new world where I never want to let go.
Lightning McQueen is back in beloved Radiator Springs after winning 4 Piston Cups. He is joined in his reunion by his best friend Mater while they enjoy the simple life. When McQueen gets entangled in joining the World Grand Prix, it takes him and Mater on a journey around the world. But their friendship hits a major speed bump when Mater seems to get himself entangled in super-spy-cars, Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell where he plays a cunning game of cat and mouse with the mysterious Professor. A tale of corruption and political power unfolds during World Grand Prix that will shake the future of cars for the world to come.
Right off the bat, there’s something wrong with that summary. In all honesty, it’s the most straightforward story out of all of the Pixar movies. Let’s make a quick rundown of past Pixar stories: Dirty rat likes to make gourmet food. One tiny ant tries to make difference in an entire colony. Grumpy old man finds his childhood through a boyscout, a colorful emu, and a talking dog. A simple dirty trashbot finds love in an advanced female robot. Monsters find love in a small child. Hell even the first Cars has an interesting premise with its arrogant protagonist finding happiness in the simple life. Unfortunately for Cars 2, this film lacks the charm, originality, and all around heart of its Pixar peers. It does however, serve as a functional spy movie that’s more than competent in delivering its fair share in thrilling moments. The film is surprisingly dark and violent at times, as it should be in the world of spies. There are even moments that would make James Bond proud, at least through Finn McMissile. Mater however would make him turn in his grave.
The character choice is where I thought Cars 2 made its first big mistake. While the first Cars circled around Lightning McQueen and his dynamic change from city boy to simple man, Cars 2 puts one of its supporting characters in the spotlight, Mater. And by doing so, we’re overly exposed to what we loved about Mater in the first one and we kinda get tired of his antics by the end. In the first Cars, the dynamic lead changes from his arrogant self to a caring and sympathetic character. In Cars 2, we have no actual character development in our lead. Mater starts out as classic Mater, he’s told to grow up, and then he’s told to go back to being Mater. There is no satisfying redemption or emotional character change. Pixar is usually good at engineering emotion, as I remember the first 10 minutes of Up being the emotional 10 minutes of my life. In Cars 2, there isn’t much depth or complexity to its nature that Pixar is usually so good at delivering.
There’s a lot of negativity being thrown around here. It’s all fueled by the immense expectation with anything labeled with Pixar, but let me jump into some of the better parts of Cars 2. First off, the animation is absolutely beautiful. Characters are smooth and extremely detailed. Many of the settings are often breathtaking as the settings around the globe are paid fantastic tribute to the details to the culture of Japan to the busy streets of London. Top notch as expected. And as I stated earlier, the film serves as a functional spy movie, utilizing enjoyable cliches and thrilling action sequences.
To sum things up I believe Cars 2 to be a wee bit of a misstep in my opinion. I think Pixar got a little bit too comfortable with its characters and allowed many of our favorites to be underdeveloped and underutilized [the lovable Radiator Springs cast and even Lightning McQueen] in the sequel in favor of overexposing some [Mater]. I hope this issue doesn’t pour back over into the next sequel on Pixar’s hitlist Monster Academy, due 2013. But for now at least Pixar’s Brave, due for 2012, shows some promising storytelling that made Pixar magical in the first place, something Cars 2 seemed to have lacked.