Review: Pixar's Latest Sequel 'Cars 2' Proves That Giants Can Stumble
by Jeremy Kirk
June 23, 2011
With Cars 2, Pixar has done the unthinkable. They've released a film that isn't funny, is never engaging, and falls to pieces under its particularly hulking attempt at being an easy money grab. It isn't like them. Pixar, animation giant that it is, has a completely spotless record, but even films that slightly miss their respective mark like A Bug's Life and the first Cars have the notable credit of heart and humor fitted into them to a point. Those two films were good but not great, mind you, and it seemed unlikely Pixar would have an out-and-out bomb in their immediate arsenal. Even with apprehension stemming from Cars, hopes were high for Cars 2.
Those hope were nowhere near met. In their latest movie, and latest sequel following Toy Story 3 last summer, the jokes fall short at every… um… turn, and the character arcs found therein seem either paint-by-number or, worse, shoehorned in out of a necessity. You would expect more from John Lasseter, the man who kicked off the Pixar feature brand by directing their first, three outings. You would expect more than an abysmal attempt at pulling nostalgia, disguised as inspiration, from the espionage and intrigue films of the '60s. That's what spawns Cars 2's adventure element. Sure, it's better than the Doc Hollywood copy-and-paste job found in the 2006 original, but the lack of satisfying execution leaves the espionage concept spinning its proverbial wheels.
It doesn't help matters that Mater is the front-and-center character this time around. Voiced by Daniel Lawrence Whitney (you won't hear the name Larry the Cable Guy in this review after this instance), Mater and his best friend Lighting McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, travel to Asia and Europe for the first ever World Grand Prix, a triad of races to determine the best racer in the world. It's here where Mater, through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, is mistaken for a world-class spy by Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine, and Holley Shiftwell, voiced by Emily Mortimer. And, oh, the Mater-isms and surface-level hilarity ensues.
You would think the level of satisfaction with Cars 2's humor range would have been broader. You would have thought Pixar, Lasseter, and the screenwriters involved here would have wanted more than throwing Mater in wacky wild scenarios, have Whitney spout out some redneck phlegmed line that's sure to go on a future birthday card, and rinse and repeat ad nauseum. It's fine if Whitney's brand of comedy satisfies your comedic hunger craving, but why stop there? The humor in Cars 2 is at the low end of the movie's worries, but it's a good indication of the laziness that went into crafting it.
But it moves on from there. Every character, not just Mater, appears to be playing to the back seats in a style of line-delivery that can only be described as abrasive. Even Wilson's McQueen seems to be yelling everything, projecting so much animation just through the dialogue, and can easily be seen flailing his arms about in the sound booth. This is made all the more unfortunate noticing how little McQueen has to do in the film. There's an arc for his character to overcome, a conflict between he and Mater, but it's so easily noticed and swept aside that any weight it might have carried flies away in the passing breeze. And that may be what Cars 2 is missing most - weight. There simply isn't anything in Cars 2 to connect with or anchor its audience.
You could look at the lack of a human element for this. The idea that the world of Cars is made up solely of cognizant vehicles could prove the starting point for a disconnect. Though A Bug's Life and the first Cars were passable by Pixar standards, they too had a certain level of disassociation in them, and these three films are the only features in Pixar's slate that has nary a human character. However, that can't be the only answer. Animated films even in very recent memory (Kung Fu Panda 2 to be precise) feature no human characters but are able to accomplish precisely what Cars 2 lacks. The real culprit here is a lack of an emotional center or any witty comedy, both aspects you would have thought Pixar had on tap.
Perhaps not every character is completely fruitless. Notice has to be given to John Turturro as Francesco Bernoulli, an F1 racer who taunts McQueen every chance he gets. Turturro, like everyone else in the film, appears to be screaming, waving his arms about frantically, and trying to get the attention of every child in the audience. However, this delivery works perfectly for the flamboyant character at hand. Caine's McMissile and Mortimer's Shiftwell are likable enough even if their storyline isn't serviceable enough to hold much interest. Plus, there's a nice nod to Paul Newman's Doc Hudson from the original film.
All of that adds up to very little in the overall film. A few instances of comedy, character, and emotion that work cannot slow down the freight train of carelessness that went into 90% of Cars 2. It's a slow freight train, mind you, one that would have benefited from the ringing energy coming from most of its voice casting. What it is, though, is a bright and muddled malaise, a way for Pixar to throw out a sequel to one of their more popular entries not for the sake of its characters, nor for an untapped adventure that sheds new light on the world those characters inhabit. Toy Story 2 and 3 were monster financial successes for Pixar and Disney, but they also came from a point of having something to say. It was more than cashing in on a famous brand.
Where Cars 2 leaves us is an uncomfortable place in regards to Pixar. It feels like one of a dozen animated sequels to past Disney classics the studio released straight-to-video throughout the late '90s. Cars 2 is a tipped cow shaped like a giant piece of farm equipment. Getting up might be difficult to do, but with time and effort, this stumble could hopefully be a tiny blip on a much larger radar.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10
Reader Feedback - 45 Comments
This review feels like the reviewer went in not wanting to like the film. I'll still be in line for Cars 2.
Rickvanr on Jun 23, 2011
Trust me, I liked Cars, and I went in to Cars 2 without very high expectations, simply thinking it would be a good film. It's not. It's starts off strong and goes downhill until it completely falls apart. For a studio that prides itself on story first, that's the major thing that's missing in this film. It is a structural mess. Such a shame too. The first third of the film was really good.
Middenway on Jun 23, 2011
Im a hugh Pixar fan, and I knew as soon as they announced it that this wasnt going to do well. It's purely a kid's movie, but with no adult content involved. Which is what has made Pixar so good for all these years. This seems like "hey Kids loved Cars, and they love our Mater shorts so lets make a movie about Mater going around the world. Plus how good is any movie going to be with Larry the Cable guy in it, Live-action or animation!
ThisIsRightYouKnowIt on Jun 23, 2011
You couldn't be more correct with that last sentence.
Frank on Jun 23, 2011
Will on Jun 24, 2011
Before you line up perhaps you should take notice that all the reviewers are trashing the film. Mind you, they didn't trash the previous Pixar films. Go ahead and line up - but you've been properly warned.
Anonymous on Jun 23, 2011
How cocaine mangled nose Owen Wilson became a star in Hollywood is mystifying . The guy couldn't even succeed at suicide and is a horrible actor unlike his brother Luke who at least has a little bit of talent . As far as this dopey cartoon goes it will sail or sink depending on whether the kids like it . I'd hate to think the country has gotten so dog dumb stupid that adults (without their kids) will be the main audience for a silly cartoon !
Anonymous on Jun 23, 2011
haha, dammit Richard, you really are snarky
Anonymous on Jun 23, 2011
No, Owen Wilson is not a great actor, but have you ever seen Bottle Rocket? His freshman outing was very good.
tommyturner on Jun 24, 2011
In other words, he showed great promise.
tommyturner on Jun 24, 2011
Owen Wilson is an OK actor, but a really good writer. I'd like to see him go behind the camera and start writing/directing some flicks. I think he'd be great at it.
Anonymous on Jun 26, 2011
I hate when reviews admit they don't like the original movie when reviewing a sequel. Takes all the validy right out of the article. I think the original Cars is the best Disney Pixar film to date....
Somethingnormal on Jun 23, 2011
Bwhahahahahahaha. That is all.
Rodion on Jun 24, 2011
i second that laughter. Cars is the only Pixar movie I walked out of disappointed, not going to be fooled again! Cars 2 might be the first Pixar movie i dont see in theaters.
Brian Barajas on Jun 25, 2011
wow seems a really great movie.i am gonna watch it once it releases in my nearest movie theater.Thanks for the review.Really helpful @movieshdnow.com
johnrules on Jun 23, 2011
cars sucked so im not even interested in cars 2
Matte Blac on Jun 23, 2011
such a shame - what are they doing?
Dominic_alderson on Jun 23, 2011
They're cashing in!
John on Jun 23, 2011
making a kid's movie for kids like they're meant to!!
Joyce on Jul 25, 2011
I still have hopes from this movie after all jeremy has been hating on disney since tron legacy- then pirates 4 and now cars. Im not expecting it to be toy story three either though
theunknown reader on Jun 23, 2011
If Pixar are still doing their braintrust thing and focusing on story as the most important element of a movie, this just shouldn't happen. Could it be that Lasseter is too respected among his fellow Pixar directors or are they missing Bird and Stanton who are away working on live action projects?
Andreas Climent on Jun 23, 2011
Maybe they half-assed it on purpose. Besides TS2, Pixar was always into making new movies and no sequels until Disney came along. Disney wants money, Cars was a money machine due to marketing toys. Blamo lets do a sequel to the weakest film out of the Pixar lineup. Don't put as much effort into it... so movie doesn't have the legs that disney was hoping so they don't pursue Cars 3? haha, alright its all conspiracy theory.
Nic on Jun 24, 2011
Arguably the most marketable from a merchandise standpoint of all the Pixar films (Toy Story not withstanding). I still think that going with Mater as the main dude is a mistake. Most kids LOVED Lightning.
tommyturner on Jun 24, 2011
Not trying to be mean here but I think the reason why Toy Story 3 was so good is because John Lasseter didn't direct it.
JoK024 on Jun 24, 2011
"You could look at the lack of a human element for this. The idea that the world of Cars is made up solely of cognizant vehicles could prove the starting point for a disconnect. " That's....ridiculous. And even if it were true, that may be the case for you, not children that tend to anthropomorphize their toys (like cars), or car guys that...well, also tend to anthropomorphize their toys, in addition to knowing the background behind the inspirations for each character. Still looking forward to the film very much.
Anonymous on Jun 24, 2011
Why does A Bug's Life keep getting criticized? It's a solid, piece of Pixar's body of work.
Jackson on Jun 24, 2011
every few years,pixar just makes an avg movie to stay down to earth.. bugs life,cars, and now cars2....pixar will pop back to the top the very next year,and stay there for 5-7 years till their next avg movie...
Rojagegeo on Jun 24, 2011
I saw Cars2 last night at a preview screening. I have a 3 year old son who loves the original ( I do as well).....Cars2? Disappointing. Too much going on, plot that is thin and not much original "Pixar" humor. It basically is a Bond film with cars. For those of you who don't like the fact that no humans are in the movie then go somewhere else....it's fantasy. The most disturbing part for me was the violence for what is a "G" rated film. Lots of guns, bombs and references to killing other cars. NOT good.
DD on Jun 24, 2011
I love all Pixar films and watch them without fail and Cars 1 is the only film which I couldn't complete watching. It was so heartless and boring for me and I wasn't even interested in Car 2 and thought this might serious flop and here it... has got 36% at Rotten-tomatoes.. which is like unbelievable feat achieved by Pixar! I think this movie was made to make money on merchandising which seems to be the driving force and not any emotional content!
Maxy on Jun 24, 2011
Sadly, yes, Merchandising is truly the motivation here. Car toys are big business in the toy industry.What better selling device than a 2 hour toy commercial.The only thing missing is a Mattel (or whatever) logo at the end.
Maxalnutt on Jun 24, 2011
Exactly, that's all this movie is. Created purely to keep the merchandise revenue rolling into Disney HQ. Pixar sold out with this one.
Anonymous on Jun 25, 2011
Saw the movie today, it was a total waste of time and money (For the filmmakers). It wasn't needed at all, plus, it didn't even felt like a Cars or Pixar flick. It was all Bond-ish but with talking cars. The movie wasn't about its protagonist, it was more about Mater screwing everything up and then solving everything, which, in my opinion that should've been McQueen's part, McQueen and Mater practically switched parts completely. Never was a fan of Cars, I got bored half way through the movie, I had hopes that Cars 2 would be a little bit more fast and entertaining. It was, but it lost what the first Cars had, story. I would seriously be not surprised at all if they turned this into Mater's franchise. For those of you who liked Cars, you're gonna be disappointed with this one. For those of you who didn't like Cars, you're gonna be even more disappointed with this one. I didn't hate this one (I was a bit entertained in some parts and laughed a little in some other parts), but it was a little disappointing. For two-five or six year olds is perfect.
Mac 306 on Jun 25, 2011
I'm a fan of FirstShowing, I really am, but I'm not suprised by the review. Anytime the original Cars has been mentioned on this site, it's almost like a black mark for Pixar and that's a shame. My top 3 Pixar films still are Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Cars. In that order. I thought the characters mixed well in the original and made them likeable. Anyhow, regardless I gotta still take my 4 year old son to see it. Cars is is favorite so no way we can miss it.
jjboldt on Jun 25, 2011
Just like I said Cars 2 will win the box office based on whether or not children want to see it just like the awful Transformers 2 . Unless it's adults without children driving these numbers then that is just sad as can be as a statement about the intelligence or more appropriately the lack thereof here in Duhmerica !
Anonymous on Jun 26, 2011
My family loved the first Car movie. My husband and I were so excited to take our 3 yr. old to his first movie theater movie. BAD idea on our part. The entire movie contained shooting and bad guys. They also discussed killing McQueen. Not what we wanted our 3yr. old to see or hear. Very, Very Disappointed in this movie. Should not be rated G, and I agree was just out there as a money maker.
Kris on Jun 27, 2011
My three year old is car-obsessed, and the first movie was his favorite movie. I also liked it because it wasn't violent, or particularly mean at any point, and so we talked about and were excited to see the sequel. I guess I should have waited to see the reviews or looked at the rating, which was admittedly my fault, but I trusted the Cars thing and we took him to see it. I was pretty shocked about the massive amount of gun violence through out the movie, death plots, and implications of murder by reflection. I didn't expect my son's first exposure to an action movie to be by accident when he was three at a Cars movie. There are reasons why my son hasn't seen a lot of kids movies. His review was, "I liked the old movie. The cars were not being nice. I didn't like this one, lets just watch the old one because they are nice. They were crashing and thats not nice." It was pretty disappointing. So way to go in the cool graphics, but could the major gun violence maybe stay in the grown up movies? They had it so right with Wall-e, every kid I know loved it, and it was such a sweet message, I'm sad to see kids movies going so far in the other direction.
Cmk12345678 on Jun 27, 2011
With no offense to the animators, the story line is tired and where is the heart felt moral story line that captivates the kids and parents alike. If this is how Pixar wants to make money, by riding the coattail of a previous movie and not putting forth any effort, then they will not be recieving any more of mine!
Smullins57 on Jun 29, 2011
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Michael Scoffield on Jul 2, 2011
I saw cars2 last night and thought it was FANTASTIC! I agree with the top post that this critic went in knowing he was gonna write a crappy review. What is wrong with these critics,lighten up and have fun,it's not meant to be a movie for adults!
nullaboy on Jul 2, 2011
Well then why have all the other Pixar films given equal entertainment to adults and this one doesn't. Because it's a bad movie. Simple. It hasn't just been decided that "We will all just pick on the next Pixar movie". Everyone loves Pixar, especially critics so it is obvious that Cars 2 is just a giant disappointment.
Rodion on Jul 3, 2011
I am so tired of adults whining about kids movies. Since the dawn of kids movies parents have had to endure the mind numbing torture of staying awake long enough to make it through said movie. Suck it up !!!!!! These movies should'nt be fun for us, just them. I hate that there are lines of toys out, ie:Transformers, Spiderman, Captain America, Batman, Thor, etc. for PG-13 movies my kid can't even watch because they are so filled with violence and sexual inuendo. Murder in a Cars movie?, the word retarded?....really I thought we were past this. Shame on Pixar!!
Pissed Off Mom on Jul 8, 2011
I have a very sensitive 3-year-old who is obsessed with the first movie, so his dad and I decided this would be the PERFECT first theater experience. He generally finds some scenes in G-rated films scary, but we are always able to tell him not to worry and that the character will be ok. And up until Cars 2, we were always right. My son does not live in a bubble, he has seen PG movies, and he does know what guns are. Heck, he loves the old Transformer cartoons from the 80s. But there is something about seeing it on the big screen with the loud audio that really startled him. He was physically shaking during the first scene. Had I known, I would have still let him see it, but I would have waited for the DVD. We trusted the G-rating and the fact that it was a Cars film to mean that it would be fun for all ages. A responsible rating would have been PG. PG does not mean inappropriate, but it would let parents of very young children know that there may be some things to watch out for. I felt blind-sided.
angie on Jul 10, 2011
Terribly disappointed! We trusted Pixar for providing positive stories and engaging characters. Our boys LOVE the original Cars and have grown up with the characters (ages 5 and 4). We are very selective about the movie and merchandising experiences they have. Cars, and Toy Story is about all that they know in the world of mass market movies. So we had no idea that we were taking them to see an adult style action movie complete with violence and killing. Shame on us for not reading the reviews ahead of time. But shame on Pixar even more for trashing our trust. That will be the last time we pay big box office money for tickets to anything Pixar for our kids without rave reviews from sources we trust. And we also won't be buying the merch. to support such a disappointing experience. There are TWO AISLES at Target devoted to Cars 2 junk. I hope enough other parents feel the same way and let the merch. sit there. Pixar can't make too many lemons before their reputation sours.
Paul on Jul 13, 2011
It was like having to sit through 2 hours of Jarr Jarr Binks (as Mater). I got a migraine halfway through and my young ones have no interest in getting the DVD now. Overall it was really a horrible Pixar movie with no plot, no softness, no intelligence whatsoever.
Elise on Jul 25, 2011
Yeah, everyone hated Cars so much that they pack into Cars Land at California Adventure like sardines. Sorry, Cars I gets an A. Cars II, not so much. But #1 is a classic.
JusticeScalia on Jan 25, 2013
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