In many ways writing my Cars 2 review feels like writing my Frozen post (which is ridiculous because Frozen is a million times better) but they both inspire such vitriol in response it is a bit intimidating to talk about.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first thing. Cars 2 was not made to sell toys. I’ve heard this so many places and it just isn’t true. Cars 2 was made because director John Lasseter loved the original and had always wanted to make a spy movie. It is so clear when you listen to the audio-commentary that he loves this movie and had a blast making it.
Pixar has always had the philosophy of ‘only do a sequel if you have an idea’. Lasseter says in the audio commentary that he had the idea to do a spy movie, which would be completely different from the original and that excited him (which is the way Pixar likes to do things if you think about Toy Story 1, 2 and 3 they are radically different from each other).
In many ways a spy movie for kids is brilliant. If you think about it most spy movies, the James Bond, the Mission Impossibles, even the Pink Panthers are too sexually explicit and violent for kids, especially small children under 5. So Cars 2 does introduce them to the genre in lots of ways and I think that is very neat.
Do I think it is a flawed film? Yes but I like watching it. In some ways I think it is a little bit better than the original. The first has more heart and a better message but this is brighter, more colorful and moves at a much faster pace (this last watch-through I got a little bored with Cars).
Back in my review of Planes: Fire and Rescue I said this about the Cars/Planes franchises:
“The key to the Cars or Planes movies is accepting the world upfront because it is incredibly silly. The idea of a world completely of mechanical items like cars and planes is a stretch and it does not hold up to any kind of thoughtful analysis. For example, why are there no robots? If a world can somehow procreate planes, cars and trains why not robots? They have televisions? Also we know there is death in the car/plane world because the old Paul Newman car died after the first Cars film but if a car is given a new engine, and retooled like a hot-rod is it somehow resurrected or does it have an entirely new personality? See I’m already down the rabbit hole on this one…”
So there you go. The world doesn’t make sense and you just have to accept that at the outset of all the Cars/Planes movies. This admittedly may be easier for children to do than adults but for whatever reason I am able to make that leap.
Once I accept the ridiculous world it is in, the story is kind of fun for Cars 2. It starts out with Lightning McQueen getting challenged by an Italian car to a race in the World Grand Prix. This race series is promoted by a Sir Miles Axelrod to promote his alternative fuel called Allinol. The plot with the alternative fuel does get pretty convoluted and complicated for a Cars movie but isn’t that usually the case with spy movies?
At the same time the race is happening we get introduced to a character named Finn McMissile who is first introduced to us in a great opening sequence with Finn spying on the central villains of the movie the ‘lemon cars’ (very clever I think).
I mean take a look at this scene and if you were a kid who had never seen a spy movie don’t you think you’d be pretty enthralled by it? I like it.
In Japan, McMissile mistakes Mater for an American secret agent, which our beloved tow truck is unaware. This plot is an homage to The Man who Knew too Little or even North by Northwest with the innocent at the wrong place and wrong time. However, the humor does get a little bit repetitive and grating at times.
In fact, Mater starts to annoy Lightning who in anger tells him to stop bothering him and go away. I didn’t really like seeing the arguing in such a light silly children’s movie. Luckily it doesn’t dwell on it long. Eventually, Holly Shiftwell and Finn recruit Mater to help them hunt down the lemons convinced he is actually a genius.
I really like the old school spy movie feel to the villain lemon cars. They are a lot of fun.
When the race moves to London they end up putting a bomb on Mater and there is a great chase scene where Mater, the Lemons, Finn and Holly, and Lightning are all racing around London. It’s really energetic and enjoyable to watch.
I honestly think a lot of people who criticize Cars 2 haven’t actually sat down and watched it. They just hear the idea of Cars 2 or read some reviews and decide it’s the worst animated film ever. With all due respect it’s just not that bad. In fact, in many ways I think it is good.
That said, where it falls short is the humor. I like Larry the Cable Guy, and I don’t mind Mater, but the schtick does get old in this film where it was still charming in the original. There are so many scenes of him being the idiot and that isn’t very funny, and like I said, the arguing with Lightning isn’t fun to watch. I liked some of the jokes about the lemon cars but you really missed the team feel of the original and perhaps got too much of Mater in this sequel.
Another flaw might be that while I find the lemon car villains clever as an adult I don’t know if that makes sense to the small children the film is clearly aimed at? Do children know what a lemon car is? It’s a small nitpick however because the bad guys are clearly bad guys-monocle and all. 🙂 .
The cars are also more like Transformers in Cars 2 than the traditional cars of the original, which for the most part all had the same limitations of regular cars. In here they can transform themselves, fly, drive on water, dive under water, shoot rockets etc. While that is entertaining, it does make it more of a Saturday morning cartoon type of entertainment than a thoughtful Pixar film. (Also Lightning doesn’t have stickers for lights any more. Upgraded I guess!).
I certainly don’t want to oversell Cars 2. The world is nutty in the Cars universe to begin with, and if they had asked me I would have said ‘Do Incredibles 2 first!’. But Lasseter had an idea for a spy movie and what they came up with I think is entertaining.
If you haven’t seen it I challenge you to actually watch it, and decide for yourself if you hate it or like me find something to enjoy about it. And perhaps watch it with little children- like the Minions, kids love the Cars movies. And as great as films like Inside Out are that challenge kids, I think there is a place for films like Cars 2 that simply give them a fun time at the movies.
Overall Grade- C+