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Friday, July 1, 2011

Cars 2 (Release Date: 6-24-2011)

        For many people, myself included, Pixar is a promise. A promise that, no matter how many tired sequels and lame, sexist, and homophobic cash-grabs that Hollywood throws at us, there will always be a small little wonder, nestled right in the middle of the movie calander's most chaotic, bombastic period. They've given us next to no reason to doubt them, their first Eleven movies ranging from good (Cars and A Bug's Life) to remarkable (everything else). Each of their Eight films released since the Academy introduced the Best Animated Feature category at the 2001 Oscars has been nominated for the art form's top prize, taking home the trophy an astonishing Six times. In addition, only Two of those Eleven have been sequels (Toy Story's 2 and 3), an incredible rarity when one considers how prone kid-pic makers are to build on their past success stories. But all of that seems to be changing, the purity of the studio's image suddenly up in the air, and all fingers pointed at the cheap laughs of the Cars 2 trailer in a state of utter panic.

        Despite being a sequel, Cars 2 appears to want nothing to do with the movie that came before it, carving its own path from the very first shot. Sure, Lightning McQueen (Voiced by Owen Wilson) is again returning home from a successful racing tour to Radiator Springs, but he and his trusty, moronic friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) are soon on the road. The international racing circuit is calling McQueen's name, as speedy, sexy formula One car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) challenges him to a Three-race-series, taking place on the streets of Japan, Italy, and England. Amidst the world tour, Mater somehow gets swept up into a secret spy mission, being placed in One dangerous situation after another by the oblivious but otherwise sleek and classy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his associate Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Car chases, action sequences, and a bevy of automobile-related puns soon follow.

        Rule number One of keeping your undisputed winning streak going: Don't cast Larry the Cable Guy as your lead character. In truth, his role as protagonist, which he quickly wrestles away from Wilson, is not the disaster some might expect. Instead of predictable bathroom humor and redneck jokes, we have semi-clever set-ups, like when the rusty Tow Truck mistakes Wasabi with Pistachio Ice Cream, a mishap that ends in a confused bout with an over-stimulating Tokyo bathroom. It's probably more clever than the things he might come up with on his own, but its noticeably below Pixar's lofty standards.  Their productions have always had a mesmerizing way of telling a story that operates on the same level for both kids and grown-ups. Here, we have the type of, 'This joke is for children, and this joke is for adults," segregation that you see in a Shrek movie. For a group of people who have always been proud and traditional story-tellers, the lack of emotional payoff, along with the numeral that comes after the name, make this one feel an awful lot like a cash grab.

        Thank god then that the animation is so immersive and dazzling at every single second that it's easy to forgive the short-comings of the plot. The opening sequence, in which McMissile invades and then escapes an enemy hide-out, could stand toe-to-toe with any action scene I've seen all year, its pacing and spacial reasoning matched only by the sheer brilliance of its craft. The film's 3D presentation is also inspired, placing you in the middle of some edge-of-your-seat espionage action, as well as some pulse-pounding races. Off the top of my head, I honestly can't think of a single computer animated cartoon that I would immediately claim is more handsome Cars 2, and even if its plot is pretty pedestrian stuff, the visual world of the film keep me entranced from start to finish.

        The short in front of the movie, which stars the Toy Story gang and suddenly allows its characters to talk, is a perfect companion for the movie. Both speak to a drastically, dishearteningly diminished sense of ambition on the part of the studio, but both are charming, fun, and might be considered real winners if they hadn't been released by a group whose work has been so completely peerless up to this point. It's an odd paradox that I can simultaneously call Cars 2 a disappointment and One of my favorite movies of the year so far, but I suppose that's where a reputation for near-perfection gets you. Here's to hoping that Pixar's next flick, Brave, reignites the passion for storytelling that has made the Disney associate the most consistently successful movie house in the world (averaging a whopping $602 Million Dollars per entry worldwide), but their newest is ample proof that even if they don't, it'll still be a total blast watch.

Grade: B+

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I didn't expect this positive of a review from you on this one. I feel similarly, but I'd probably go a little lower than a B+.