Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Movie Review – PIXAR’s Cars 2

I am a devoted fan of PIXAR. Nobody ahd to convince me that Toy Story, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Monsters, Inc. or a remake of Seven Samurai starring bugs were going to be cool. But then the ground-breaking studio went and made these movies about fish, cars, a stubby old widower and a cooking rat (!) that were just as fantastic and cool.
Each PIXAR film is a love letter to a particular genre, interest or style of filmmaking. And they’re done by people that really know how to write and create. These aren’t just movies that say, “Hey, this thing is pretty cool – check it out!” These movies show you the subject matter and explain to you exactly why the creators love it so much and why you should love it too all within a narrative that lasts 90 minutes or less.
PIXAR introduces us to characters, worlds and concepts that are at once familiar and delightfully new. I can say without exaggeration that no other collection of films can stand up to the quality of PIXAR’s first eleven features.

Needless to say, I was very excited about taking Lil’ Troublemaker to see Cars 2. The first Cars isn’t my favorite PIXAR movie. Actually, it’s easily my least favorite, but that’s kind of like saying Metlar is my least favorite Inhumanoid – not as good as the others, but still really awesome. Toy Story 3 was Lil’ Troublemaker’s first movie in the theater and while we did stay for the whole thing, he definitely wasn’t crazy about how loud everything was – particularly some of the trailers. Once we got into the actual feature he was fine, but some of the explosions and musical stings in the trailers were really loud. I sympathize with him. Sometimes I think theaters are unnecessarily loud.
So I wasn’t too sure he’d be willing to go see Cars 2, but we kept mentioning it to him to see. Last Saturday the idea took hold and he got really excited about it. I think mainly because he found out there was a new Toy Story short before the movie. I got up early (for a day off) Saturday and we went to my favorite theater for our first father/son movie trip. I was prepared beforehand to leave early if we needed to for any number of reasons. The movie wasn’t what was important – we were having guy time.
Despite my plans to the contrary we arrived early enough to catch the trailers. We were both pretty excited about Winnie the Pooh and the new Muppet movie. Neither of us cared much about Dolphin Tale, but I can tell you right now if the trailer made me want to crawl under the seat and cry like a little girl I’m certainly not going to see the movie. There was also a trailer for the CGI Smurfs. I honestly don’t think it looks terrible. Not as bad as some of the other kid-oriented dreck we get. I even laughed out loud at Neil Patrick Harris’ outburst of Smurf-cursing and the little blue fiends’ reaction to it. Katy Perry does seem awful as Smurfette, though. Her voice-acting is as soulless as her music.
And then there’s Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked! I think I have a greater tolerance for a lot of these kids movies than some people. I don’t think they’re great or anything, but they don’t offend me. I can’t sit through those damn Chipmunk movies though. No matter how much I like Jason Lee or David Cross or even the Chipmunks for that matter; I just can’t stand them. Lil’ Troublemaker loves them, though. I’m pretty sure we’re going to end up in the theater for that one. Blech.
Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation was fantastic. It was somewhat reminiscent of the old ABC TV spots from when the first (or was it second?) movie came out, and I mean that in a good way. I won’t spoil anything, but the story is quick and concise and fun. Ken and Barbie take center stage, but pretty much all of the characters from the third movie show up. Mr. Pricklepants gets some particularly good gags. We both laughed through this whole thing and I recommend you track it down and watch whenever you can. It had the same charm, quality and heart as the movies.
Which is more than I can say for Cars 2.
I should have known there was going to be trouble when I saw Mater and Lightning McQueen shilling for that reprehensible nest of shitbags, State Farm.
I’m going into full-on ramble here, so there may be spoilers. I tend to do that for movies that I don’t like.
The movie starts off promising, with Michael Caine’s character Finn McMissile (because apparently they couldn’t be bothered to come up with any more clever names) is basically James Bond. The whole opening sequence features the spy doing all kinds of spy stuff and basically re-establishing how cars can do all the stuff they can do without humans in their world. It’s a great opening that sets the stage for an exciting new dynamic in the world of Cars.
Unfortunately, part of that exciting new dynamic is the slaughter of several other cars. The action takes place on an oil platform (which initially made me think we were going to be on the receiving end of a heavy-handed “Go Green” message) and naturally McMissile is discovered spying on the bad guys. This happens after said bad guys reveal what happened to the last bad guy they caught: he was crushed into a cube. While this is kind of funny, all I could think of was a kid’s reaction. To a kid, those cars are alive. They’re not just vehicles that happen to talk – they are very real characters with real thoughts and feelings. You might recall that PIXAR once made an entire movie just to convince us of this. And now they’re murdering those lovable, feeling characters in brutal ways.
Once McMissile is discovered, he evades capture by throwing one foe over the side of the platform. Did the car simply float back up, sputtering? Nope. Maybe he sank to the depths, just to emphasize he was out of the game? Uh-uh. No – after hitting the water and submerging briefly, a collection of parts rose to the surface, showing that the offending character was violently dismembered by his impact on the water. McMissile’s next move is to set fire to an oil slick he laid down and incinerate no less than twenty of his pursuers. Because it wouldn’t have been enough to simply have them crash into one another and get delayed. They had to be murdered. It seems even more unnecessary later when McMissile still ends up cornered by a group of the villains. Why couldn’t it just have been the same ones he incinerated earlier?
My point is that all of this is just too heavy-handed. We don’t need to be slapped in the face with the seriousness. We’re watching a PIXAR movie. I trust that the stakes are going to be established. We’re all familiar with spy movie conventions and we know the situation McMissile is in.
Next we got to a funny little scene of Mater helping out an older Radiator Springs resident named Otis. This leads to one of the first kind of weird scenes of the movie, where Mater sort of loses his mind over the fact that his best friend Lightning McQueen is back home from the race circuit.
Over the years since the first Cars was released, we’ve gotten to know Mater a whole lot better thanks to a number of shorts on the various Disney channels. The old tow truck has been portrayed as an independent character who is maybe just a bit cleverer than he seems, but still absolutely innocent.
Cars 2 treats him like a dog. He is in no way portrayed as an equal to Lightning McQueen; but more as a subservient oaf that McQueen humors. This undermines not only the shorts, but also the whole point of the first movie. But whatever. I guess we need extremes to get our characterizations across. McQueen is a big celebrity with a kind heart and Mater is a well-intentioned rube.
We do get a very nice and respectful memorial nod to Paul Newman and his character Hudson Hornet before getting to the meat of the movie.
A former industrialist turned conservationist – Miles Axelrod - is sponsoring a World Grand Prix to show off his new all-natural replacement for fossil fuels: Allinol. Great racers from all over the world are competing, but McQueen is going to skip the race so he can hang out in Radiator Springs with his friends.
At least, that’s the plan until Mater – who is portrayed as a creepy stalker throughout the movie, going so far as to sneak into a restaurant and pose as a waiter just so he can be with McQueen while the racer is on a date with his girlfriend – sees John Turturro’s Character Francesco on TV talking smack about McQueen. Mater calls into the show and manages to get McQueen involved.
And this is about where the weird really sets in. McQueen lets his girlfriend talk him into taking Mater with him. The first stop on the Grand Prix is Japan, where we are treated to a montage of Mater and Lightning McQueen doing stereotypical Japanese things to a shitty cover of The Cars “You Might Think”. If you don’t understand how creepy and inappropriate that is, here are the lyrics, courtesy of
you might think i'm crazy
to hang around with you
maybe you think i'm lucky
to have something to do
but i think that you're wild
and inside me is some child
you might think it's foolish
or maybe it's untrue
you might think i'm crazy
but all i want is you

you might think it's hysterical
but i know when you're weak
you think you're in the movies
and everything's so deep
but i think that you're wild
when you flash that fragile smile
you might think it's foolish
what you put me through
you might think i'm crazy
but all i want is you

and it's so hard to take
there's no escape without a scrape
you kept it going till the sun fell down
you kept it going

you might think i'm delirious
the way i run you down
but somewhere sometime
when you're curious
i'll be back around
and i think that you're wild
and so uniquely styled
you might think it's foolish
this chancy rendezvous
you might think i'm crazy
but all I want is you
That song is way too much for a couple of buddies hanging out. I don’t want to get into the whole idea of cars fucking and I certainly don’t want to contemplate the logistics and/or morality of gay cars and their presence in Disney films, but that damn sequence has forced me to think about all of those things. There is no way the people who put this movie together are naïve and innocent enough to not realize the connotations of that song.
Next up is more “Mater’s a rube” stuff and a heavy-handed scene where McQueen tells Mater they’re not in Radiator Springs any more so he needs to act differently. For all the weirdness of the previous montage, this is the first genuinely groan-worthy scene in any PIXAR movie, ever. Never before have I seen PIXAR characters blatantly tell the audience what the moral of the movie was going to be. This is just bad storytelling.
Naturally, Mater does a bunch of retarded stuff that all leads up to him peeing on the floor in front of God and everybody on live Japanese television. Seriously. And then Mater makes such a big deal of how he never “leaks” that you think there’s going to be some explanation other than he’s just a socially incompetent disaster, but that explanation never comes (as far as I know).
I do need to admit something here – I did not see this whole movie. We left some time after the race in Italy. At that point I had been sitting for a while hoping Lil’ Troublemaker would want to leave. After a few minutes of switching seats, sitting on my lap, just sort of looking around the theater and even an aborted trip to the snack bar, he finally busted out his standard excuse to leave any situation: “Daddy, I want to go home. I miss my dogs.” I was relieved. So my point here is that some of my complaints may well have been resolved by later events in the movie. I kind of doubt it, but I’ll never know for sure.
Next we’re treated to what is actually a pretty funny bathroom scene where Mater is assaulted by Japanese toilet technology. While all of that is going on, Cars 2 does the one single thing that it does absolutely, unassailably, unquestionably right. Get ready.
Are you ready?
You’re not ready.
Hold on.
It introduces Bruce Campbell’s character.
That’s right. Bruce Campbell. He’s the American spy car – something Redline - that has some secret information the bad guys want. There’s a brief fight between Campbell and a couple of goons where he gets his trunk kicked pretty good until Mater exits the stall in the middle of the altercation. Redline sticks a tracker on Mater before the tow truck exits. This leads to the whole mistaken identity thing that was honestly handled much better in that Bill Murray movie. Or that Richard Grieco movie for that matter. Mater meets Emily Mortimer’s character and is mistaken for the American spy.
Another thing besides the State Farm promotion that put me off Cars 2 a bit was Emily Mortimer’s interview on Conan O’Brien. She recently became an American citizen and made a big deal out of how she basically did it as a tax dodge and what a big pain in the ass it was. You know what, then? Go the fuck back home. If it’s such an inconvenience to become a citizen of the greatest country on the planet (for now, anyway), then maybe you shouldn’t bother. We certainly don’t need you here. Ass.
After Mater makes contact and is mistaken for a spy, he goes on to be such a fucking bonehead that he causes Lightning McQueen to lose the race in Tokyo. Now, it could be argued that McQueen was a little boneheaded himself to have a barely-functioning moron like Mater giving him race advice, but whatever. The movie then goes on to make it look like McQueen is the one who’s a douchebag for getting g pissed at Mater for not doing his job. Mater gets all sad and says he’s going home but ends up in a plane with McMissile and Shiftwell (Mortimer’s character).
Hijinks ensue; blah, blah, blah.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the evil scientist car and his goons torture Bruce Campbell to death on screen.
Technically Cars 2 looks as good as anything else PIXAR has done. Most of the voice acting is fine, with Larry the Cable Guy and Michael Caine standing out as the very best. Owen Wilson seems to be phoning it in, but I think that’s just what he sounds like. I seem to remember feeling that way about the first movie, too.
There’s also a really good song in the Italian part with “Vroom” in the title. The song is sung in Italian so I have no clue what was being said, but it was cool.
I didn’t like this movie. Lil’ Troublemaker didn’t like this movie. Even if you’re a huge fan of the first one I wouldn’t recommend watching it. Just watch the original again.

Until next time, stay creepy

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