'Cars 2' (dir/s: John Lasseter/Brad Lewis, 2011), Cert: U
For those who do not know, I am a Pixar fanatic; the studio is by far my favourite in the film industry and I have adored and admired their works for years - I even wrote my university dissertation on Lasseter's 'Toy Story' (1995). Since the release of the first fully computer animated feature film, Pixar Animation Studios have enjoyed a string of successes with their films; critics adore them, adults are stunned by them and children are amazed by them, but 2006's 'Cars' was the first movie to split opinions. I think it's a very good film, but it's certainly the weakest Pixar entry. Well in 2011, we have been invited back into the driving seat for the sequel which again has divided the masses leaving many thinking one thought: has the studio actually produced that dreaded 'bad' picture?
After being challenged by Italian Formula 1 car Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro), Piston Cup winner Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) teams up with 'Tow' Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) and heads off to the World Grand Prix; the ultimate race that takes place in Japan, Italy and London. However, behind the scenes is a spy espionage headed by British secret agent Finn McMissile (voiced by Sir Michael Caine) and his new partner Holley Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer). After some confusion, Mater is mistaken for a spy and now has to team up with McMissile to stop a deadly threat to the car world.
I'll start by saying this - 'Cars 2' is not vintage Pixar; it lacks the intimacy of 'Up' (2009), the intrigue of 'Wall.E' (2008) and the nostaligic joy of the 'Toy Story' franchise (1995 - 2010). It is not a perfect film by any sense of the word, and joins it's predecessor in the weaker section of the studio's filmography. Having said that, 'Cars 2' is still thrilling and visually extravagant, and it "blows the bloody doors off" the majority of it's animated rivals.
The main problem with Pixar's sequel is it seems to slightly forget what the studio preaches oh so often - Lasseter is famous for believing the computer animation is only a tool to make these movies, characters and narrative drive the picture and that's what makes them successful, and this statement is clearly true of the studio; how many memorable characters have their pictures spawned? There's too many to name. But the characterisation in this movie is sadly below par - the majority of Radiator Springs' natives are completely forgotten, the spy storyline puts a barrier between the other vehicles involved, and bizarrely Mater has the majority of the screen time making him the lead and McQueen the supporting, and I can only handle a certain amount of Larry the Cable Guy before he starts to grate on me.
But it's certainly not all bad, in fact I genuinely believe there are more positives than negatives with this feature; for starters there's the animation. I know the last few DreamWorks entries have gone toe-to-toe with the Luxo Lamps, but 'Cars 2' makes sure they lead the pack once again. The visuals are quite simply phenomenal particularly in the race sequences; the Tokyo footage is beautiful with it's glowing neons that soak the night's sky and the impressive reflections on the racer's bodywork.
|Still from 'Cars 2' (dir/s: John Lasseter/Brad Lewis, 2011)|
Then there's the action which again is superb - the film's opening is quite literally explosive, the espionage storyline brings insanely cool gadgets that burst to life in all the mania and the chase sequences look and feel fast-paced. One chase through the tightly-wound Italian streets in certainly amongst the film's high points.
I do agree with those who have commented on the film's narrative; it does feel a little fragmented and I'm not too sure if it knows what genre it is. I would argue it's more of an Action/Adventure animation rather than a Comedy - there are some laughs involved but not of the same level we're used to, but even though it's not a hilarious trip, it's still a very entertaining one, and indeed a journey I would happily take again.
The voicing is universally very good, however as I've already mentioned, there's a little too much Mater/Larry for one to stomach. Wilson is great as McQueen and does exactly what he does in the first picture, he's just not as cocky. Caine is great as McMissile and is easily the best character in the film - his gadgets are cool, his action scenes are cool and he is undeniably cool. Mortimer is also a strong casting choice as Shiftwell as is Turturro as the cheesy and over-confident Francesco.
If you are looking for a family film to see now the children have finished school, 'Cars 2' is a great choice and offers plenty for all to enjoy, but if you're expecting another 'Toy Story 3' or an inner-child exercise, you might be a little disappointed. If you do head to your local multiplex for this, make sure you arrive on time to see the wonderful and hilarious 'Toy Story' short before called 'Hawaiian Vacation' - it's main star is Ken; sheer bliss.
Although 'Cars 2' doesn't offer the sheer wonder of other Pixar features, it's still a very solid, entertaining and visually impeccable feature that's well worth your time.
By Chris Haydon