John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Ben Queen, John Lasseter, Brad Lewis, Dan Fogelman
Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro
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After 15 years on top, all great empires must crumble. Pixar has long been the go-to name in quality entertainment that transcended the barrier of child/adult entertainment. With Cars 2, their hot streak has finally come to an end, but it's not something to be celebrated.
Relenting to the pressure to produce a sequel to the semi-popular, but merchandise-rich Cars, Pixar (presumably under pressure from parent Disney) took one of the weaker entries in their vaunted history and made a slipshod, minorly entertaining feature that lacks the passion, strength and quality all of its films prior possessed.
Lightning McQueen (voiced by a resurgent Owen Wilson) has become a world renowned racer, but still finds time to take vacations to visit his friends in Radiator Springs, including his good buddy Mater (voiced obnoxiously by Larry the Cable Guy). When he's cajoled into a three-destination international race by a smooth Italian Francesco Bernoulli (an overly-stylized, Italian-accented John Turturro), he decides to bring Mater along with him so he can see what life is like outside of Radiator Springs.
Cars 2 abandons much of its predecessor's simple, homespun idealism. It's no longer about how a desire to get everywhere fast causes people to miss out on some of the best things in life. The new film instead hops on the age-old and painfully overused concept that you must be yourself and accept those around you for who they are and not try to change them into what you want them to be. All of this is hitched to an amusing, but pointless espionage adventure.
Getting to see Japan, Italy and London from the eyes of animators is a delight, however. The visuals are among the most stunning Pixar has put together possessing an almost photo-realistic quality, most noticeable in the London scenes. It's one of the areas that Pixar has always excelled and, until now, was just one of their many accomplishments. Thankfully, at least they haven't sold that part of the productions out.
Alongside Turturro, Wilson and Larry; Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer and Eddie Izzard lend their vocal talents to the film. Caine plays a British spy (Finn McMissile) and Mortimer a data consultant (Holley Shiftwell) with British intelligence. Izzard portrays Sir Miles Axlerod, a wealthy oil magnate who's discovered a new, synthetic gas that is safe for the environment. It's this discovery that leads him to create the racing event that ties the film together. Caine, Mortimer and Izzard are serviceable to the film, but even they can't overcome stiff material.
Pixar has the right to deliver at least one bomb. Spielberg, who is arguably one of the foremost visionaries of the last three decades, even has his Amistad. To be disappointed comes with the territory. If Pixar were to continue to hit grand slams out of the park with every at-bat, the eventual foul ball would be more devastating the longer the inning dragged on. So, it's better to churn out at least one dud here and there so expectations are never so high that you cannot meet them. While I'm a bit disappointed that it has happened, I can recognize the need and hope that they'll learn their lesson here and put better resources into assuring this doesn't happen again. Of course, if this is a Disney parent issue, we'll begin to see a degradation of quality as the years press on. A lot of the great ideas we've seen over the last few years were under development prior to the Disney acquisition in 2006, so it's possible that we weren't being adequately prepared for the new parent's controlling interest.
There are some vastly entertaining segments in there, but they can be appreciated as a kid would appreciate an animated film, not like how we have come, as adults, to appreciate Pixar. Substance is surface deep, leaving the most ardent Pixar supporters grasping for a reason not to wonder if Pixar has finally succumbed to their powerful Disney parent. Next year's Brave should hopefully answer that question, but there's still a sequel to Monsters, Inc. to worry about.
August 15, 2011