Monday, July 11, 2011

Pixar's Ironic Messenger

Pixar's newest release is slick. And when I say slick, I mean it's SLICK. In the same way that Lightning McQueen is speed, Cars 2 is slick. Shiny. Mint. The animation is... there are no actual words for what the animation is. Especially the animation on the racing locations. I sat there thinking, "I want to go there." Especially when they were racing in Italy, and, actually, I have no real desire to go to Italy, but those scenes... I would have just stepped into them if I could have.

Cars 2 embraces everything kids loved about Cars and focuses in on it and makes it Bigger. Better. Faster and more intense (to quote a famous director (well, he's not famous for being a director, but that's the phrase he's known for when directing (points for anyone that knows whom))). Throw in Michael Caine as Finn McMissle, the James Bond of the movie, and you have  the perfect mix for the perfect spy spoof. And it is. If you can imagine a James Bond movie where he's accompanied by Johnny English (a Rowan Atkinson creation, if that gives you any idea). Actually, just see Cars 2, and you won't have to imagine it. Caine is suave and sophisticated while Larry the Cable Guy is, well, Mater.

In comparison to other Pixar movies, this one has been getting bad reviews. Which puts it on just about even footing with other movies. As a total aside, I find it extremely curious that the first movie that Pixar has released that attacks a particular group, in this case Big Oil, is the first of their movies to get any kind of negative reaction. In general, their movies have been about the human condition, and this one is, too, but Cars 2, specifically, makes the statement that Big Oil is bad. WALL-E has a similar theme, an environmental theme, but they don't target any particular group with that movie; they play it safe by equating their environmental message with said human condition -- humans need to "shape up" but not any specific ones. But, hey, I agree with them, Big Oil is bad. They are one of the big evils in the world, and, if Pixar wants to call them to the carpet, I'm good with that. I mean, when a Saudi prince starts talking about how they need to drive oils prices down so they can keep the US dependent on the Middle East for oil, you know something's wrong.

I'm not trying to say there's any kind of conspiracy against Cars 2 or Pixar by Big Oil, but I do find the negativity surrounding the movie to be, well, like I said, curious.

Moving past the oil thing, probably, the biggest "flaw" of the movie is its failure to meet audience expectations. Cars is about Lightning McQueen. He is the star of the movie. The trailers leading up to Cars 2 support our assumption and expectation that Lightning will, again, be the star of Cars 2. Pixar fails to prepare us for the reality, and the blame for that lies squarely with them. Or with Disney. With whoever prepared the trailers, but I'd find it hard to believe that Pixar didn't have some control over that. The truth is, though, is that Lightning is not the hero of the sequel. That distinction falls on Mater (If you doubt it, check to see who got top billing for the movie. Hint: it wasn't Owen Wilson). I think it's quite possible that adult audiences just couldn't come to grips with the comic relief from the first movie taking over in the spotlight in the second. Kids, though... well, kids love Mater, and I'm pretty sure it hasn't been an issue for them.

That's a failing I often see in reviews of movies for kids, the tendency to belittle them for no reason other than that they're for kids. Pixar, of course, has spoiled the wider audience by making their movies equally appealing to adults, so when they release a movie that is geared (no pun intended) more toward kids, adults get a little upset over it.

If Cars 2 does a have a failing, I'd say it's one of story telling. The big plot is the spy story with the message about big oil, but they needed something else to give it that emotional impact they're known for, so they tried to weave in a story about friendship and how we need to accept our friends for whom they are. Lightning is embarrassed of Mater. In fact, it is the early conflict over this that sends Mater off on his adventure. However, because the movie is focused on Mater, we never get the opportunity to make an emotional connection with Lightning over the issue, so there's no tug on our heart when we get to the pay off for that in the movie. Just an intellectual acknowledgment that, yes, we shouldn't try to make our friends be someone they're not. It's the failure of these two story lines to support each other that leaves the audience feeling that there could have been something more. Sort of like making one peanut butter sandwich and one jelly sandwich and leaving it to the audience to figure out what to do with them.

Having said that, I do feel the need to point out that this movie is still vastly superior to the average Hollywood offering. If this is the worst Pixar has to offer, and I'm not saying it is, because I actually enjoyed it a lot more than WALL-E, no one has any reason at all to complain. And it's worth saying: Big Oil is bad.


  1. I did not see Cars 2 but my son did and although he said he is too old for Disney movies....he's 9. He said it had some funny parts and was pretty good. I never read movie reviews by professional reviewers because I do think they sometimes have an agenda. Thanks for the review!

  2. I haven't seen Cars 2 but it's on the list simply because of Pixar's track record. It cannot be worse than the god awful Transformers 3. Holy crap that movie was bad.

  3. Hmm well I loved Cars 2. And since my husband works for an oil company, luckily we didn't find the message to be too overwhelming or anything :-)

    Our favorite part was the wasabi "ice cream". My five and six year olds still laugh about that

  4. I am so glad you blogged about this, Andrew, because I am one of the many who heard the film was just... eh. Pixar has always done a wonderful job, in my opinion. The Hubby and I still put in Toy Story (the first one, of course) when the mood strikes, and proceed to laugh our butts off for the next 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

    One thing you mentioned really struck me: "That's a failing I often see in reviews of movies for kids, the tendency to belittle them for no reason other than that they're for kids." This makes me sad, really, because kids are a WONDERFUL audience, with real opinions we should all pay attention to. They are the future, whether you wanna admit to it or not.

  5. We still haven't gotten a chance to see this, but I definitely intend to. The review I've heard most often from other parents is that they thought it was okay, but their kids loved it, which is good enough for me, seeing as how it's a kid film, and all.

    There's an award for you on my blog.

  6. Jennifer: My 10yo son came over and read your comment while I was answering the door. He's stunned that your son thinks he's too old for Disney at 9. He'd been looking forward to Cars 2 as his big movie of the summer for, at least, 6 months.

    Michael: You want to talk bad movies wait till I get to Green Lantern. It's been a long time since I saw a movie that bad.

    Rachel: Oh, man, the wasabi ice cream was hilarious. I bought some wasabi almonds a few weeks ago, and I couldn't stop thinking of my daughter trying those during that scene.
    Pixar's good at giving a large dose of entertainment with their messages so they don't come across too strong.

    Alyssia: I love going to movies with my kids, even movies I don't want to see and may not like, because I love to watch them watching the movie. If it's a movie for them, I don't care if I think it's good or not. I judge my reaction on how they react.

    A lot of Star Wars fans were really upset with the animated Clone Wars movie because 1. it was animated 2. it was for kids. I loved it. I loved it more because my kids loved it. There's nothing wrong with things made for kids.

    Shannon: It's definitely worth seeing. I kind of wish we'd sprung for the 3d, because it looked like it would have been great in 3d.

    Thanks for the award! :)