A Dreamer Walking

Cars 2- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 4, 2011

Cars 2 is mediocre. It is the kind of film I thought John Lasseter swore he would never release let alone help direct. I have heard Lasseter talk constantly about story being the most important thing in his films, yet Cars 2 seemed more influenced by a man’s boyhood fantasies of seeing his cars actually shoot missiles and blow thing up than by any beckoning of the heart to show us a story that absolutely needed to be told. In fact, in Cars 2 we see John Lasseter often sacrifice story and character development for more chase sequences and gun shooting. I can’t help but think the reason why Cars 2 was so mediocre was because John Lasseter is the big boss at the studio now. Could it be that the Brain Trust does not have a great influence on Lasseter because he does not need to worry about losing his job if he does not listen to them?

It is through constant revision that a great piece of art is made at Pixar. The flaws of Cars 2 seemed quite obvious to me. The plot was more oriented toward action then character development. The film was introducing too many new characters and locations. We had so much to concentrate on and it was all going by so quickly we could hardly appreciate any of it.  The new characters such as Finn Mcmissile and Holley Shiftwell were underdeveloped. Both expressed a great deal of secret agent skills and they of course had a lot of cool spy gadgets, yet both had very few character traits that made them feel unique or relatable. Pixar has shown they are willing to give their movies time to mature, to go from being good to great. John Lasseter said in a interview that the development time for Cars 2 was about three years, yet at times Pixar has had films in development for more then a half a dozen years. Why was Cars 2 not given any more time for revision?

Maybe Cars 2 was exactly the kind of film John Lasseter wanted it to be. If this is the case I am very concerned. The overall storyline seemed to completely dismiss the lesson learned in the first movie. The first Cars movie was about taking the time to appreciate the small things in life. In the first film the race car Lightning McQueen was so concentrated on racing he did not know what it meant to have a relationship or find enjoyment in the calm parts of life. In Cars 2 McQueen wants to take a break from racing yet is convinced against doing so by the same friends who taught him the necessity of slowing down in the first film. We saw Lightning McQueen go through three races in Cars 2 and he wasn’t even the main star of this film.

The star of Cars 2 was Lightning McQueen’s best friend Mater. Mater is a rusty old tow truck who has a heart of gold. However, when Mater goes out with Lightning to experience the world he sticks out like a sore thumb. The great lesson of the movie seemed to be something like “don’t be afraid to be yourself no matter where you are“. However the theme is a bit weak sense “being himself” gets Mater into a lot of trouble. In the movie Mater somehow gets mistaken as a American spy pretending to be a tow truck. We go through situation after situation of Mater about to be killed and barely getting away through other agents saving him or blind luck. Mater is also part of McQueen’s cockpit crew but gets distracted and loses the race for McQueen. There is a point where we begin to think as audience members Mater needs to stop being “himself” and grow up or he is going to get himself and many other people hurt. The Pixar people seemed to have a hard time balancing Mater’s role as the main source of humor for the film with the need for him to be a multi-dimensional character who carries the film emotionally. We also don’t see how “being himself” really influences the characters around him. Mater did not hang out with McQueen enough for us to see how McQueen’s perspective changed through Mater’s influence. Mcmissile and Holly Shiftwell, Mater’s spy buddies, give lip service to Mater’s effect on them but very little is seen visually. Mater was too busy doing spy work to have a great effect on Mcmissile or Holly. There was a effort by the filmmakers to have Mater show some knowledge for car mechanics, which impresses Mcmissile and Holly, yet these character traits seemed to do little in effecting the characters deep down.  At the end the two characters come briefly to thank Mater for all he has done and then fly off on their next mission.

The humor for this film seemed to also be lacking. A lot of the jokes went over my head, like when Mater says “Is the Popemobile Catholic”. The film seemed to be in a constant “hurry up” mode so the audience could hardly appreciate any of the punchlines of the jokes Mater told or situations Mater was in. If we were given half the action and twice the amount of time to appreciate the beautiful scenery and characters I feel the movie would have been much more fulfilling. It should not be about, “How much action can I pack into this movie”, it should be about getting quality entertainment out of the action you have supporting the story. When the action is used to support the characters’ development and theme of the story, we begin to get interested. Mcmissile has several daring action scenes in Cars 2, however the audience is never really given a reason to invest in Mcmissile. He is a one dimensional character with no background and no reason for why he does what he does. Are we supposed to like Mcmissile because he is voiced by Michael Caine? Or because he is a cool looking car model? Those things lose value with time and can only take an audience of this generation so far.

In Cars 2 it is obvious that Lasseter wanted to create a spy movie. The movie is packed with action sequences where the main characters barely get away again and again and again from evil “lemon cars” (cars with mechanical defects). The lemon cars mission is to destroy all the fuel resources not connected to them so they can have a monopoly on the world’s fuel. The secret car agent Mcmissile will go to any extreme to spoil the enemies’ plans. We literally see Mcmissile kill several dozen cars in this movie. I guess since all the cars he kills are “bad guys” its okay. However, a “G” rating seems to be very irresponsible for all the gun shooting, exploding, and killing that goes on in this film. We are given the premise that these cars are living and breathing characters. With this premise there should come some responsibility. Why should we value these cars if John Lasseter and the crew are not willing to do so?

Pixar has created eleven strait box office and critical hits. With their twelfth feature film they created a dud. Cars 2 is hardly worth watching. I have long been an advocate for Pixar. Pixar has long been a place where I envisioned starting my career. Through all the director changes I have read about and management criticisms I have heard, I have stood behind Pixar because at the end of the day I believed they had the most dedicated artists and produced the most quality films of any studio in Hollywood. Many of my storytelling and filmmaking foundations have come from Pixar. I keep on thinking about what effect Cars 2 has had on my concept of Pixar and my future ambitions to work for the studio. I am sure Cars 2 will make a lot of money, I just never felt Pixar put money above good storytelling. I wonder if they are beginning to let the business side of Hollywood corrupt their creativity. As I said at the beginning of this review, I feel like Cars 2 was the movie John Lasseter said he would never let out of the studio. Now that he has I wonder what is next?

7 Responses

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  1. Jesse Koepke said, on July 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Wow, I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I was kinda afraid it would be like this. In my opinion, the first Cars was Pixar’s weakest film (still stronger than most in Hollywood, but Pixar’s weakest), and besides the Toy Story series it’s the only other sequel they’ve done. I was hoping it would somehow be good, but it’s sad to hear it isn’t. Thanks for the review, Jacob.

  2. Jacob said, on July 4, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Ya I agree with you about the first Cars movie. However, because that movie wasn’t my cup of tea I thought it was a worthy of being told. The message was very personal to John Lasseter and I thought the overall story was told pretty well. I wasn’t a huge fan of Owen Wilson as the voice of Lightning McQueen and think he does a even poorer job in Cars 2. I just don’t think he has a good variation of tone to be a good voice actor. Anyway, the greatest problem for me was the person in charge of Cars 2, John Lasseter. About a year and a half ago John took over directing from Brad Lewis. John is the head of the studio and the person who had the original idea for Cars 2. When you see the leader of a studio be okay with mediocre work, usually the others are soon to follow. I just hope this does not represent a change in the principles of the studio.

    • Jesse Koepke said, on July 4, 2011 at 10:35 pm

      Yeah, me too.

  3. Brenda said, on July 18, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Wow I completely disagree, I thought the movie was funny and clever. Everybody’s favosite character is Mater anyway, why not make him the main character in the sequel? The movie was a children’s movie not an adult movie, the fact that you looked into it that much suprises me.

    • Jacob said, on July 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

      Well thank you for commenting Brenda. One thing Pixar has stated before is that they do not make movies just for adults or just for kids, they make movies for the whole family. Cars 2 was no more a children’s movie then Toy Story or Finding Nemo was. However, Toy Story and Finding Nemo hit on points that were far more thought provoking and useful then Cars 2.

      I do not think the child portion of the audience really understood the movie much more then the adults. There was a lot of humor in the movie that went over the children’s head. The only big thing the kids would find entertaining was all the gun fighting and explosions. I personally think gun fighting and explosions are cheap entertainment and the Pixar crew sacrificed the integrity of their main characters and the value of their world to give us this cheap entertainment. John Lasseter killed off other cars, with main characters we were supposed to think were “good guys”, without much of a second thought. We could not value all the cool locations and lifestyles of all the countries they were in because we needed to get to the next race or action sequence.

      I would have been fine with a movie staring Mater if the story seemed to be calling for it and he had a story to actually tell. However, I feel the arc of Mater was underdeveloped and more of an afterthought.

      • Max Keogh said, on July 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm

        I completely agree 🙂 I just came back from watching Cars 2 where it was just released in the UK, and honesty, Cars 2 felt like the only Pixar film that was loud, crass, and felt more like a film made for Disney’s investors rather than a passion project. The 8 million merchandise sales obviously swayed Pixar to make the movie regardless of it’s quality.

      • Jacob said, on July 28, 2011 at 7:42 am

        Ya I am sure they will make quite a bit of money. Sad money was made more important then actual quality. It was John Lasseter who said quality is the best business plan. He ignored his own advice in Cars 2. This is not to say there wasn’t quality things about Cars 2. I felt the movie had some good animation and some of the locations were very beautiful. But the story is what counts and the story is what seemed to have the least passion.

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