Lemon! - Cars 2
T he first Cars movie was one of Pixar's longest — if not in actual time, then at least in terms of the time that you felt had elapsed between settling into your seat and shuffling out — and part of the problem was it took an hour to get into its story, strung around a scrappy group of characters in Radiator Springs. (How odd that the early portions, with race cars zipping by in blurs of metallic colour, seemed so sluggish, and the film had to land in a sleepy little nowhere-town to pick up speed.)
Cars 2 dispenses with that little issue by stepping on the accelerator right at the beginning, with a stretch of secret-agent intrigue straight out of James Bond. (It's even scored to pastiche James Bond music, with bass licks and blaring trumpets.) This appears, at first, a remarkable improvement, the equivalent of taking a troublesome car to the mechanic and fixing exactly what needed to be fixed — but soon we find ourselves in a peculiar position, yearning for the relatively simpler (if unremarkable) pleasures of the first film.
How much eye candy can the eye take before sugar shock sets in? Cars 2 could be your personal litmus test, as it packs its frames with the splendours of neon-tinted Japan, coastal Italy and, finally, London. As a testament to the skills and the sweat of a million animators, the film is an unqualified triumph. But unless you're a millionaire whose hobby is collecting cars, you don't buy an automobile because of how the eye swoons to its gleaming externals — you buy it because of, among other considerations, the way the upholstery feels against your backside.
That practicality of purpose is missing in this flashy and ultimately empty sequel, and an early segment unwittingly lays out what we've lost. We're back, briefly, in Radiator Springs, and we see that Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, again doing outstanding voice work) is now the winner of four Piston Cups, now renamed for Doc Hudson, the crusty old automobile voiced by the late Paul Newman. It's a minor meta-moment that coasts on nostalgia for an actor last seen (or heard) in a movie that coasted on nostalgia.
The link to the best part of the earlier film — the latter half — is made explicit, and we're primed for more homespun enchantment with McQueen's best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt). After all, that is what sequels do, taking the things we liked and shuffling them around in ways that are fresh yet familiar.
Instead, the director John Lasseter — in a move that is bold, if not quite bright — yanks us from Radiator Springs and its residents and thrusts us into a racing competition that sprawls over exotic worldwide locations. In a move that's even bolder (and even less bright), Lightning McQueen is reduced to second banana, while Mater — whose corn-pone shtick is mildly tolerable in small doses — begins to occupy centre stage, mistaken for an international spy by Finn McMissile (Michael Caine, pitch perfect in a retro-styled character whose “moustache” suggests he's part Hercule Poirot, part Zorro) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
And we're suddenly in an adventure whose hero mistakes green wasabi for pistachio ice cream and screams his roof off. Is this what humour at Pixar has been reduced to? But talk to the kids in the audience and they'll label you a grouch — after they've finished laughing to this, which they'll claim is the funniest joke in the whole wide world. Cars 2, then, is the rare Pixar film that — despite its winking homages to 007, like that one-liner from a secret agent about being in the import-export business — is aimed squarely at children. For the adults in the audience, it's déjà vu all over again, a long, long wait till The End.
Cast: (voices of)
Larry the Cable Guy,
Owen Wilson, Emily
Storyline: The cars of
the first film are
invaded by the spirit
of James Bond... or
sequel to one of
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