Whelp as you all know the Pixar streak, one of the finest unbroken stretches of quality in American film history, just got broken. But I come here not bury Pixar (as if) but to praise it. I’m fully confident that Pixar will make great films again (if only because holy shit did you see the trailer for The Brave) and thus it’s worthwhile to take a look at just why and where Cars 2 goes off the rails.
Here’s the thing Cars 2 does look for all the world like a Pierce Bronsan era James Bond movie, enacted totally by anthropomorphic Cars. Though the question of why anyone would want to see that is still assumedly locked somewhere in the depths of John Lassetter’s psyche. After the low key original, this has got to be one of the strangest changes in direction that a sequel has ever taken. It’s as if they made a sequel to Beethtoven and called it Cujo.
The frustrating thing about Cars 2 is the fact that its easy to see the entertaining, if undoutbably strange, film that it easily could have been. No film featuring Michael Caine at his most effortlessly charming, Bruce Campbell, Eddie Izzard, and John Turturro basically giving his G-rated take on The Jesus, is going to be wholly without entertainment value. Cars has some fantastic moments. Take the Japanese montage set to a song choice as obvious as it is perfect, which manages to craft in more ideas, more images, more wit, and more breathtaking design then most animated features cram into their entire runtime.
Yet there is the inescapable fact that when you are watching Cars 2 you are watching a Larry The Cable Guy vehicle. Let me repeat when you are watching Cars 2 you are watching a movie that has been lovingly crafted to give as much exposure to Larry The Cable Guy as humanly possible. Every minute of it precisely calibrated to give you as much Larry The Cable Guy as you could handle. Any time your mind lulls you into believing otherwise and you begin to enjoy the other elements of the film, the bright, lively animation the game supporting cast, the film comes in and reminds you that this the cable guy’s show and recenters everything around him, so he better scream catchphrases at the captive audience. The horrifying fact of Cars 2 is though you could shelve it next to your Pixar films, you could also put it next to your copies of Delta Farce and Witless Protection and you wouldn’t be wrong (also if you somehow owned both Delta Farce and Witless Protection may God have mercy on your soul).
Fair or not this is simply a film you have to look at differently for Pixar having produced it. In another family animated film an annoying side character voiced by an annoying celebrity, being put through the paces of a borderline nonsensical plot could be taken as a given, and allow the audience to focus on the other elements of the film. But this is a Pixar film. By definition they are supposed to be better than that. There is no way around the fact that Cars 2 is a sub-par film.