Published Jun 23, 2011If there's a problem with the Cars movies, it's only that their central conceit is fundamentally flawed. Your mileage may vary, but I have trouble suspending my disbelief to accept automobiles as acceptable candidates for anthropomorphism.
Oh, I can accept talking bugs, rats and fish, since these are all living creatures that, speech aside, exist in reality and more or less behave how bugs, rats and fish would. I can even accept toys that magically come to life when nobody is looking, since the heroes of Toy Story have been made by humans and more or less exist within the boundaries of the human world.
These things I can accept, but when I see the sleek, neon-drenched Tokyo that forms the backdrop for much of Cars 2's all-living-cars world, I wonder how vehicles were able to build this metropolis, since they evidently don't have hands or fingers (perhaps they can do something fancy with their tires, but mobility still must be pretty limited).
Certain other questions arise: do they reproduce or are they manufactured? If the latter, is there a car in charge of manufacturing and wouldn't that car be God? (I did appreciate a scene in which a cheap car complains that the other cars never respect "lemons," if only for the intriguing possibility that the Cars universe may be founded upon a caste system.)
Cars 2 sees famed race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) participating in a series of races sponsored by AllInAll, a natural energy source that Big Oil is trying to stifle. Okay, so in this movie's universe cars run on fuel and until AllInAll came along the only source of energy was oil. Who first discovered fossil fuel and who distilled it? Was it a car? How is that possible? Ah, but wait, in explaining fossil fuels, one of the characters refers to dinosaurs. Does this mean that no other non-car organism has ever existed in this universe except dinosaurs or did cars evolve from something else?
Okay, let's say you love anthropomorphic cars and you want to know how Cars 2 stands up on those terms. It trades most of the original film's whimsy for more action-packed spy-movie spoofery, and if it feels a little soulless; it also proves again that in this shaky-cam age, the Pixar people remain the most skilled crafters of decipherable, genuinely exciting action sequences in American cinema. The film also looks even better than the original ― the metal is shinier, the colours are brighter and digitally rendered Tokyo, Paris, London and Porto Corsa are extraordinarily vivid and detailed. There is always something fun to look at.
But too much of Cars 2 depends on the alleged lovability of Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), McQueen's redneck tow truck friend. His shenanigans involving his incompetence with technological doohickies and fancy pants big city folk could have come out of Crocodile Dundee. Mater is made into such an over-the-top hick that the movie feels hypocritical when McQueen learns the inevitable lesson about accepting his friend's personality. Friendship is all well and good, but when Mater mistakes a spoonful of wasabi for ice cream at a party, then rushes onto a stage to drink from a fountain, don't you think McQueen is within his right to be embarrassed?
Cars 2 is passable as bouncy children's entertainment, but it's the first Pixar movie that feels inessential, which is doubly disappointing following four consecutive great or near-great films (Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3).
But in a sad sort of way, it's not surprising that Pixar would eventually make a sequel to their least-beloved product: Lightning McQueen likely sells more toys than an elderly widower or a French sewer rat. (Disney)