Cars 2 is Better Than You Think it Is

Cars 2 is a better movie than the reviews would lead you to believe. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film only has 35% and to me that is criminally low. The film is no where near a God-Tier Pixar film, it’s definitely at the bottom of the low-tier, but it is no where near being a bad film. It’s just mediocre, which can sometimes make a film seem worse than it is. People probably went into the film with expectations of a film on the level of Toy Story 3 or Up or Wall-e and it definitely is not on that level. The IMDB rating of 6.6 out of 10 feels a bit more accurate.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), fresh off his fourth Piston Cup win, is invited to attend the inaugural World Grand Prix by the former oil tycoon now alternative fuel pushing Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard, who’s name actually came from an Eddie Izzard joke about the creation of the wheel), who is running the races as a promotion for his new alternative fuel Allinol. Lightning takes Mater and the rest of his crew to Japan for the first race where he encounters Francesco Bernoulli (John Tutorro), an arrogant but hilarious Italian F-1 racer, and the rest of the contestants in the race.

Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are two British spies who mistake Mater for the American spy that they were supposed to meet (the real spy is played by Bruce Campbell) in Japan and involve him in their spy work despite the fact that he is constantly trying to tell them that he is not a spy. Despite the fact that he has absolutely no training, he is somehow able to competently be a spy. This isn’t always some comedy of errors, he-trips-and-the-bad-guys-hit-each-other, kind of movie (though there is some of that), he is actually able to, more-or-less, do the job. They are actively trying to stop the villainous Professor Zündapp and a group of “lemon” cars (cars with serious defects in the design of the car) from their evil pot. They collectively own the largest oil reserve in the world and are using a defect in the Allinol fuel that causes it to ignite when hit with large amounts of electromagnetic radiation to make the fuel look unsafe as so that people will go back to using oil. Zündapp is making cars in the race crash and break down using a modified TV camera that houses an electromagnetic emitter.

The film shifts gears very well between the two different story lines very well eventually having them completely interweave with each other. The story is very standard spy faire combined with a somewhat weak racing story, so it’s nothing amazing, but it is very fun to watch. The race scenes have some very good camera work and the action scenes are very well done and surprisingly violent. Seriously, in the first action scene, there is an end of Commando-esque body count. It’s all done to cars and not humans, so it makes it okay, but it’s still very surprising. The spy elements of the film very strongly reminds me of the Incredibles, but from a very different director.

Cars 2 was directed by John Lasseter just like the first film, but the film has a very different feel from the first movie and not just because of the very different story. The two stories are not as strong as the original story (but much more action-packed and fast paced) and actually mess with the message of the first film. Cars was all about slowing down and enjoying the surroundings, and there just isn’t enough of the movie that allows for you to enjoy the locations in the film. What I loved about the first film was the design of the world, there are just so many references to cars hidden all over the world: cars being built out of the rock work and mountains, hubcaps, headlights, spark plugs, pistons, and grills hidden in architecture, and normal items being built for the use of cars.

Speaking of references, look for the Ratatouille reference when the characters are in Paris. I can’t tell if I was the only one in the theatre to catch it or if they just didn’t think it was funny, but I laughed out loud when it came up. The standard in jokes are in the movie, but the Pizza Planet truck and Luxo Ball are harder to find in Cars 2. The Luxo ball is in the credits and the Pizza Planet truck is one of the spectators at the end of the film. The largest complaint about the first film that I have heard from people was Larry the Cable Guy. He tends to be completely unfunny and annoying, but Cars is easily the best thing he has ever done (actually the only good thing he has ever done) and he managed to find some sort of balance between his normal schtick and actually being slightly endearing. Cars 2 manages to cut down on the annoying factor even more through the fact that almost every scene that Mater is in has Finn or Holly in it to break up the inherent Mater-ness. The film even calls him out on always playing the idiot that defines the stereotype of Americans throughout the world.

The film looks amazing, and it should. Each individual frame of the film took 11.5 hours to render and Pixar stepped up their game when it came to water and lighting effects. They revolutionized the industry when it came to water when Finding Nemo was released and with the inclusion of the off-shore oil rigs surrounded by stormy seas presented a way for them to show off their mastery of the industry. Pixar developed a brand new mathematical wave model named Tessendorf that allowed for them to create and animate the more violent waves in the opening action scene. For most studios, this would be enough, but this is Pixar and they want to kick you in the face with how amazing their animation is and then rub salt in the wound to really sink their supremacy in, so they set the scene at night and made it so that there is a character that would be traveling through the stormy waves. They had to animate the waves reacting in a realistic manner when they hit the boat and then had to add all of the various points of light to really send the point home.

Along with the progression in the water department, they also took what they started with in the original Cars, the reflections, and took it to the next level. The characters are cars, and who likes a dirty car? Well, besides the Mater fans, but they’re just crazy. The cars in the original film were definitely shiny, but it’s on a different plane in this film. The better reflections are best shown off in the Tokyo scene where you have the various neon lights being reflected off of the clear coat paint jobs. Each individual strand of neon can be seen and the lighting looks even more realistic when wrapping around the chassies.

To top all of this off, the film sounds as good as it looks. The surround sound mix makes the film sound just as good as any other big-budget blockbuster and the music takes a noticeable step up from the first film. Randy Newman did the music from the first film and it definitely worked well within the context of the story and within it’s theme, but Newman does not do music that is well suited for a big action film very well. He has proven that he can do it with “Zurg’s Planet” from Toy Story 2, but why not go back to the composer who gave the Incredibles that amazing sound to go along with it’s genre breaking story? Michael Giacchino returns from his Academy Award winning score for Up with another fantastic score for a Pixar film. When it comes to Pixar, he has done no wrong: the Incredibles (which won 6 awards), Ratatouille (won 2), Up (won 10), and Cars 2 will probably win some more. It catches that same jazzy action feeling of the Incredibles, but with a twist for each of the countries that the cast travels to.

Overall, Cars 2 is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, it is a mediocre film that has too much expectations being thrust upon it. It is visually and audibly amazing with a fun yet somewhat weak storyline and sometimes annoying characters. It somehow manages to be both better and worse than the orignal Cars film, which is incredibly odd to say. It’s more of a step to the side rather than a step up or step down.

Also, it has Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation in front of it which is completely hilarious and feels like it was worth the price of admission alone. If you see Cars 2 in 3D, there is also the entire “Circle of Life” segment of the Lion King in 3D and it is glorious. Disney did it the right way and I am really looking forward to seeing the whole film in 3D.

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