Well, the streak had to end sometime. After making 11 movies which redefined excellence after each one, Pixar was bound to fold on the weight of its own greatness. If there’s any movie that it had to be, we can at least be thankful it was Cars 2.
The story returns to Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who’s relaxing in Radiator Springs with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). When Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro, thankfully minus his ass) openly insults Lightning on television, McQueen joins a worldwide race and brings Mater along. Along the way, Mater gets mistaken for a secret agent by Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), and then Lightning’s plot pretty much gets forgotten for Mater’s version of The Spy Who Knew Too Little.
Let’s start with the good of the movie. It’s gorgeous. Pixar has definitely not lost any of that. A flyover of London looks downright realistic. Flames, water, whatever, it looks as good as the real thing. The movie also starts with a Toy Story 3 short. It might be wrong to praise the short in a review about a movie, but it returns to a group of characters we know and love, exactly what the movie should’ve done. It’s very funny, and I wanted to stay with them a little longer. Since it starts with a “Toy Story Toon” tag, I can only assume this is going to be a thing from now on, and if it is, I’ll gladly be looking out for any more of these they make.
So now that we’re done with that, it’s on to the bad. The movie badly wants to be a spy movie. It’s got a spy plot, spy action, spy gadgets, spies spies spies. The problem is that it’s like it was written by somebody who loves James Bond, but doesn’t know what makes James Bond work. Part of the key is a sense of mystery, that the writer has all the cards and you’re going to slowly reveal them to the audience. The movie just outright tells you the main plot points so early on that you’re not left wondering. It’s too bad, because it’s actually a decent plot in there. The presentation of it just screws it all up. The action sequences are a little better, but they’re still flawed, especially for a movie that’s clearly meant to be an action-comedy. Both the Kung Fu Panda movies mix action and comedy together so well that there’s absolutely no disconnect. Here, it’s like any time an action scene comes along, they completely remove the comedy from it. And the racing scenes, which should be just as action-packed as the scenes of guns and explosions, are boring. The NASCAR races from the first movie were more interesting. NASCAR is more interesting than a course that goes through the neon streets of Tokyo. I don’t know what to say.
The comedy is just…I don’t even know. It’s so hard to point out where jokes go flat or just don’t work. I think part of it is the pure Mater part of it. In Radiator Springs, you had a nice cast of characters, and while Mater certainly got a lot of the jokes, you didn’t get overwhelmed by him. With him as the focus, you just long for that moment when one of the other characters will come on screen. His whole schtick is that Finn thinks he’s a spy even though he isn’t, no matter how much it becomes obvious that Mater is completely out of it. And when that’s not happening, he’s just being Mater, acting like a fool. And this culminates in what may be one of the single worst moments to ever hit a Pixar movie, where the movie tries for Pixar heart, and instead just berates you for laughing at him. This isn’t an unheard-of thing to do. It just tends to be done in more adult movies. I have no idea how kids are going to react to being told they’re horrible people for laughing at the comic relief character, but I imagine it’s either going to go right over their heads or just make them not want to watch the movie again. After all, who really wants to watch a comedy where you’re not supposed to laugh?
Cars 2 is Pixar’s Shrek 3. It’s a sequel that loses what made the original so great in the first place. It’ll probably make a lot of money, but I hope they don’t feel good about it. And the worst part? It’s directed by John Lasseter. I can only assume this is the reason why we see him as producer instead of director recently. I cross my fingers that this is Pixar’s first and only complete fumble.