Let’s first get this straight: “Cars 2” is no “Toy Story.” It’s not going to make you cry, hug your family or even think particularly hard. While “Ratatouille” took a group of smelly mice and made them kind of round and adorable, “Cars 2” is as impersonable and utilitarian as cars can be — all right angles, sharp exteriors and shiny paint jobs. In fact, it wouldn’t be remiss to call it the worst movie Pixar has ever made, if you’re judging by that kind of tear-jerking standard.
At Quality 16 and Rave
But this “emotional deficiency” (for lack of a better term) is not a question of biting off more than one can chew. No critic, no matter how much they might have hated the film, can fairly say that Pixar failed in its mission. After all, we know what the gazillion-dollar company is capable of, having proved that gleaming hunks of metal can be as innocuous and disarming as puppy dog tails (“Wall-E” being the evidence). If Pixar had wanted to make another charming parable about materialism or whatever, it could have done so with panache to spare.
So, OK, now that we’ve established that the whole boom-shoot-whiz thing was purposeful, there are two ways to approach this. One more sinister, and vaguely more probable explanation, is that Pixar sold out — more interested in merchandising profits and box office sales than genuine artistic integrity. The other, more positive one, is that desire for breadth and diversity won out over depth.
Look at it this way: Does every single Pixar movie need to be a heartrendingly beautiful tale of love, family and loneliness? We cried at “Toy Story,” “Wall-E,” “Up,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” because they tugged at our emotional heartstrings. But if you think about it, it’s really all the same story: Protagonist X is left bereft of all companions for Y reasons and has to make a journey to Place Z. He/she/it succeeds. Audience collectively sniffles.
Isn’t it plausible that Pixar might have wanted to add a little variety to the tried and true formula? That maybe instead of having a contest of who could put Kleenex out of business, they just wanted to make this really fun, mindless action movie and screw the rest?
The filmgoer is a fickle fiend. A few more movies later and we would have all thrown our hands up and been all like, ‘Enough with the transcendentally moving garbage! Pixar is boring.’
And whatever a person might say about “Cars 2,” boring is not one of them. There’s crazy 007 espionage, cool gadgetry and kickass stuntwork that revs and roars with the exhilaration of a wild goose chase, as well as a truly sexy James Bond-ish protagonist by the improbable name of Finn McMissile (played by resident Brit Michael Caine of “Inception” fame). The plot, in brief, follows the gas-guzzling circuit of competitive racing, and contains in its pages a mildly interesting conspiracy involving “lemons” and an imaginary alternative fuel called “Allinol.” In short, it’s an action movie kind of story, one that exists mainly for the purpose of blowing a lot of stuff up (Pixar class intact, of course).
Rather, it is in a character, not storytelling, where the company takes its first faltering step. Class clown and perennial sidekick Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, “Witless Protection”), who grated in the first installment, hits a new low in his larger role as the village-idiot-come-savior to the automobile industry. Thank goodness for those Britons, because it’s all one can do from throwing something at the screen every time Mater comes on in his rusty, drawling Southern accent.
And while it’s excusable for Pixar to want to make an action movie — its own animated version of “Transformers” with a hot Megan Fox to match the sweltering sun rays beaming down outside — what’s not so excusable is hiring freaking Larry the Cable Guy to star in it.