As these things go, Cars 2 is not awful provided you are judging the movie with a specific viewpoint. Viewed as a slipshod attempt on Pixar Animation’s part to turn the first film, long held as the weakest of their output prior to Cars 2, into a franchise with all the aggressive merchandising riding shotgun, one could make the argument that it is that most cynical of attempts to milk the tot-market. After all, the first film was a parable about becoming a selfless citizen from being an ego-driven loner, already a dusty chestnut in terms of plot. It was not as if Pixar was telling some drastically new kind of story, anthropomorphically imbued characters aside.
But even in its weaknesses, the original Cars had charm and has actually aged well. Part of that was through the magic of viewing it on television. As most car races are viewed by most people on television, so too the story conventions seemed to fit into the home theater box nicely, where it seemed out-of-place on the big screen. Essentially, Cars was suited to be a made-for-DVD movie and probably would have been regarded more favorably had it actually been so. Don’t forget: Toy Story 2 had been developed as a direct-to-home-video offering too but was deemed more worthy of theatrical status as production continued.
But the Toy Story world has something the Cars world doesn’t: a cast of characters that, for the most part, could anchor their own stories individually. Cars‘ Lightning McQueen is the star because he/it has to be to tell the story. About the only other character in this realm that had the meat to be interesting while standing alone was that Doc, The Hudson Hornet. With Paul Newman, the actor that voiced Doc, deceased there was no clean way of telling that story without courting perceived disrespect, and thankfully, Pixar never went in that direction. Having gone through all that exposition, I can say that Mater, the tow truck, comes nowhere near being interesting enough to anchor a theatrical film.
In Cars 2, McQueen and Mater head to Europe to race in the Grand Prix. Mater is mistaken for a super-spy, yet another very haggard plot device that has been used by Peter Sellers, Leslie Nielsen, Rowan Atkinson and even Fred Flintstone, lo these many years. A little bit of Mater, voiced by Larry The Cable Guy, goes a long way which is why one assumes the character was relegated to comic relief status in the first film. In number two, on the big screen, it is all too overwhelming and probably says a lot about why no single Larry movie vehicle has achieved much, in direct contrast to a continuing popularity. Larry works best on the smaller screen, in controlled doses, and so does his four-wheeled alter ego.
The whole movie does as well, leaning on a feel of an episodic TV show versus a slam-bang theatrical “experience.” Call it the snobbish belief of what constitutes “worthiness” and the ingrained biases over what we feel direct-to-video features are and should be. Cars 2’s director, John Lassiter, one assumes from his previous statements, felt the same way at one point. Before the merger of Pixar and Disney when the two companies were still co-operatively separate, Lassiter himself spoke about Disney’s stream of direct-to releases, sequels to some of the studio’s classics which were, in his view, hardly flattering to the legacy. After being integrated into the larger Disney structure, there are still direct-to videos coming, and plenty of them aren’t terribly good. They’re just asset management. There was also a lot of claptrap about how sequels cheapened a company’s vision, too. This was said just before defending the creation of the superior Toy Story 2. Since then we’ve had Toy Story 3, Cars 2, and a Monsters Inc. number two in production.
But I have not come to slag John Lassiter. I still have great respect for him and his work, and Cars 2 works particularly well now, instead of how it was before. This leads to the realization of a missed opportunity. Had this been given over as a direct-to-video offering, it could have raised the stakes for what such a thing means, and subsequently might have added more shine to the Pixar brand for having made the attempt. Worse, Disney doesn’t reward its “failures,” if being the #1 animated movie of the year can still be a failure, which is why I reviewed (and bought) the DVD instead of the Blu-ray. The special features, at least according to the back packaging, are exactly the same between the two formats. You may pay more for the higher resolution inherent in the Blu-ray, but that’s all the extra kick you’ll get. The packaging is plain and uninvolved. It is as if the movie has now become a mark of shame to the company and they’ve dumped it into the marketplace and moved on.
If that is the mindset within the organization, and not just a perceived lack of support, then Disney/Pixar have nobody to blame but themselves for getting greedy and sending decent quality direct-to-video releases to the multiplexes, hoping to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time. If you’ve found yourself feeling warm toward the original Cars lately, you’ll likely buy the sequel. If you’re only mildly intrigued or your kids absolutely have to see it, a rental will suffice and I think you’ll enjoy the decision. And if you happen to be a member of either Disney or Pixar, remember that people fell in love with the studio because they continually relied on new concepts, stories, and ways to tell them. Shake off the sequel sweater because it is not a good look on you at all.
Cars 2 is available from Amazon.com.
- Report: Pixar’s John Lasseter defends CARS 2 (autoblog.com)
- Toy Story Toon Hawaiian Vacation READNFO BRRip XViD-DTRG (hdmovies4pc.wordpress.com)
- New on DVD & Blu-ray, Week of November 1: ‘Cars 2,’ ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’ and ‘Water for Elephants’ (moviefone.com)