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Advance Review: Cars 2: Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Written by: Nanna Torhild, Special to CC2K

CC2K undercover operative Nanna Torhild ventures down from the mountains of Sweden to offer this advance review of Pixar’s next movie.

ImageIt’s not often a movie screen seven months in advance in my city…actually it’s downright unlikely. So when I received movie passes to a “super secret screening” of an animated family film coming out next summer the only thing I was hoping for was that it WASN’t Kung Fu Panda 2, although it seemed the most likely. Imagine my surprise, after waiting for over an hour in the cold, when it was revealed I was a part of one of the only audiences to see Disney and PIXAR’s upcoming summer tent pole…CARS 2! As an avid Disney and PIXAR fan this was a dream come true, and even more so considering the movie doesn’t actually hit theaters till June 24, 2011. The movie is about on par with the original 2006 film Cars, which I must admit is probably my least favorite PIXAR film, but loses itself by shying away from the small-town nostalgia that made the original great.

The original Cars film told the story of race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) who gets dumped in the small-town of Radiator Springs. The town is a forgotten village on the abandoned Route 66 and while Lightning is stuck fixing the road he meets an eclectic group of characters including the lovely Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and the idiotic Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Cars prided itself on its small-town charm and love of a simpler time where everyone knew each other and the wide, open road was your’s for the taking. There were a few missteps, namely the character of Mater, but it was an enjoyable romp helmed by PIXAR legend John Lasseter. The sequel, co-directed by Lasseter and Brad Lewis, has Lightning taking Mater to a prestigious car race where the cars run on alternative fuel. Once there Mater shows himself for the country bumpkin that he is and embarrasses Lightning. On his way home he’s confused for a secret agent by British Intelligence member Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and his Girl Friday Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). The confusion of identity puts Mater in a dangerous situation where he’s forced to save Lightning from a nefarious plot that could destroy him.

Now before the review I should mention the condition in which I saw this movie. Since it’s still steeped in post-production about 70% of the movie was incomplete. There were a few completely animated scenes where the cars voices matched the mouth movements but the majority of the animation consisted of animated storyboards, flat animation and completed scenes with incomplete dialogue. The story seemed to be pretty set and its unknown how they’ll cut anything that doesn’t work as pretty much everything is needed to make a complete story.

In terms of what I enjoyed, much like the original Cars, the side characters are a delight. In this case there needed to be a lot more of Finn and Holley, the two British spies. Caine was made for this role as he’s essentially reprising his characters from Austin Powers and The Italian Job but it works here. Mortimer is also a gem as the green field agent who finds herself in love with Mater. Another high point is the jokes, something that is actually an upgrade from the original. The original film didn’t really seem like a comedy; here the movie is all about making people laugh. The script is surprisingly adult and it’ll be interesting to see how many of the jokes will stay in such as Mater’s comment, when asked a rather stupid question, “Is the Pope mobile Catholic?” The sets are also beautiful in this, even for flat drawings! The movie goes to several different places throughout including Japan, Italy and Rome and all are animated to perfection. The Japanese section had the most completed animation and the attention to detail is PIXAR quality (i.e. spectacular). It’ll be wonderful to see again once the movie is complete to see how Italy looks.

As much as I wanted to like the movie though I found myself tuning out quite a bit. The problem is our star. If you don’t enjoy Larry the Cable Guy or you didn’t like Mater in the original Cars you’ll be bored every time he’s on screen, which is the whole movie! The other characters save the film but Mater’s bumbling idiot wasn’t funny in the original and here he’s playing the typical dumb American mistaken for a secret agent that’s been done better. Larry the Cable Guy’s shtick hasn’t worked in his standalone films and here he’s just reprising his typical bumbling idiot. There’s no heart to his dialogue or warmth which makes it hard to connect with him. The focus on Mater actually ends up alienating every other character from the 2006 film as a whole. There’s no focus on McQueen, despite it being his race that gets Mater into the film’s plot, and everyone else including Sally are relegated to making cameo appearances. The bigger plot and bigger locations keep the cast out of Radiator Springs for 95% of the movie and there’s no nostalgia or charm in the cold world of Europe. Cars 2 plays like an animated Austin Powers or any other sequel that gets a bigger budget and thinks everything should be “more!”

Cars 2 is good, but it never feels PIXAR good. At times the movie plays like a sequel made to capitalize on the merchandise sales and goodwill of the original. The side characters are highly entertaining but this should be retitled “Mater” as there’s no connection to the original characters. The saddest thing is that this movie could have been a straight PIXAR film with people, or hell any other film and it would have been completely the same! That is probably the saddest part, that the story could have been told in any other way and it would have been just as cheap. This didn’t need to be a Cars film and the saddest thing is, it shows!

Cars 2 comes to theaters June 24, 2011