Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Disney Cars 2 Review

Now the first Cars from Pixar had a major issue for me, it doesn’t need cars in it. This may sound weird but bear with me. Toy Story is, at its core, about learning to accept what you are and your place in the world. Toy Story has a universal message but if made with human actors in a non-toy setting you’d lose the fundamental dynamic of being a toy in a human world and the added pathos that brings to the story. Monsters Inc needs monsters, A Bugs Life needs bugs. Each of these stories uses its non-human cast to help it by taking the elements of that world and using them to enhance the story and message of the film.
You could take Cars, change the cars to humans and have the exact same film. It would be the story of a race driver whose car breaks down in a small town and has to pitch in with the locals while his car is repaired, learning the value of life as he does. Having cars with human traits adds nothing to the film, the message of the film would, if anything, be enhanced by having human actors to empathise with. 
Anyways taking Cars for what it was, it’s ok. The story was fine, if nothing special and the film drove along at a fairly nice pace. I have no major issues with it or feelings towards it in any way. Now cynical people would say that Cars was only made to sell toy cars to Disney’s, at that point, limited young male audience and that if you wanted to keep selling those toy cars you’d have to make a sequel. Even more cynical people than the aforementioned would say that you should add more toy cars to any sequel, ideally with hidden weapons that can be fired. I’m honestly amazed they didn’t add robotic dinosaur cars made out of Lego. 

Now Cars didn’t leave much potential for a sequel, what with McQueen’s story wrapped up. So what do you do when you have no ideas? Parody! Cars 2 is a parody of spy movies and to be precise, comedy spy movies. This film has more in common with The Man Who Knew Too Little or Spy Hard than it does with James Bond. At best it’s a parody of Roger Moore era Bond, but with none of the charm or heart. The key rule of parody is that you affectionately mock certain, distinct, elements of the original genre. Once you are copying a copy, you stop being a parody of a spy film and become just a bad spy film. That being said the action and spying sequences are generally handled quite well, helped by an enthusiastic performance from Michael Caine. If the film had just been about following Caine’s British and Bruce Campbell’s American agents as they travel the world fighting evil cars, I would have liked it. 
This film is visually speaking one of Pixar’s most beautiful. The animation is amazing and the cinematography is outstanding. That being said the film has a strange air of cheapness to it, although it clearly cost a lot of money to make, it’s hard to escape a feeling of 3D assets being reused, the soundtrack also only seems to have three constantly repeated tracks on it.  The script also feels somewhat rushed. Exposition is handled in an almost comically clunky way, dialogue is obvious and painful and the eventual plot twist is one of the few manmade objects visible from space. 
This film has one joke, that joke being that Mater the tow truck is confused with a spy by the secret service and keeps being put in dangerous situations he doesn’t comprehend by people who think he is an amazing undercover agent. This joke is as old as comedy itself yet requires a certain level of care to be successfully worked. Without care you get lines like “Look out McQueen, I’m a bomb!” followed by “That’s right Mater, you are the BOMB, you’re great!”. This is basically how the entire film functions but they did manage to resist the urge of creating a master spy called Maytier who is identical to mater aside from a moustache, so that’s something.

Now there is a simple litmus test for if you will like the Cars franchise.  The test revolves around if you find Mater an amusing character. The great thing is if you haven’t seen either film you can still do this test! Simply jingle a set of keys in front of your face and see if you laugh or not. If you laugh you’ll think Mater is the funniest hype shit you’ve ever seen. Obviously someone at Pixar does because he’s on the screen for about 90% of this film.

You see Mater’s amazing friendship with McQueen, complete with stilted Rain Man like witty dialogue exchanges. You also see Mater fall in love with Holly Shiftwell, Shiftwell presumably being a car based double entendre. She thinks he is a master spy, which makes the fact that he keeps calling her pretty every five minutes, workplace sexual harassment. To be fair, since she doesn’t have a personality he has to keep calling her pretty or we wouldn’t get why he wants to Mater with her. 
Mater has a personal journey throughout this movie, he realises that being an idiot has ruined his best friend McQueen’s life and that he has to try harder. I think Pixar realised the lesson of ‘Don’t carry your friends with you in your adventures, they’ll ruin your life’ was negative so they tacked a scene with McQueen apologising for shouting at Mater and saying “If people don’t take you seriously, they need to change”….Much better.
In conclusion, this may be the most pointless sequel ever. Even more so than Highlander 2, at least Highlander had the potential for interesting lore to be exploited. I’m not even sure that if you liked Cars you’ll like this film. Imagine the drop in quality from Aladdin to its sequels and then that same drop distance from Cars to Cars 2. That being said, I honestly can’t think of a better sequel idea for Cars…aside from Cars 2: Junkyard?

UPDATE! I have had the argument presented to me that liking Mater may not be due to if you find him amusing but rather that you care for him as a character. I would counter this by saying that for a character to be truly cared about they have to be aware of their surroundings and the situation they are in. You care about someone primarily because you empathise with them. Mater is for 90% of the film unaware of what is happening to him and why. Even when he realises how the world actually sees him, as an idiot, this realisation does not change him and the world instead changes around him. You can argue that for the 10 minutes where he realises the truth about himself you can feel sorry for him. However given that his idiotic behaviour is adversely affecting those around him, he is the issue, not the world, so why should the world change for him?

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