In its 25 years in animation, Pixar can take pride in knowing they’ve never made a bad feature film. In fact, they’ve been on an amazing run in recent years with unique and charming films like “Ratatouille,” ‘WALL-E,” “Up” and last year’s “Toy Story 3.”
But there are different levels of quality, and after that strong run Pixar has hit a bump in the road with its latest — “Cars 2.” It’s not a bad film, but it’s the worst of the goodness that is Pixar Animation.
To be honest, I was not a fan of the original “Cars.” I never cared much for playing with cars as a boy and I never took much interest in the real thing as an adult. And as a cartoon — well, I can buy talking toys and talking fish and talking bugs, but talking cars? That’s one road too far.
But apparently little boys love “Cars” and their parents buy lots of “Cars” merchandise and there ain’t no dummies at Disney, hence: “Cars 2.”
The film starts off strongly. British secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) is investigating mysterious goings-on at an oil derrick in the middle of the ocean. In true James Bond fashion, Finn gets himself in a tight spot but miraculously escapes. This scene is so good — it’s clever, inventive, exciting — it gets you in the mood for a really good action-adventure romp with talking cars.
And then the attention turns to Radiator Springs. And Mater (Larry the Cable Guy).
Oh, how I hate Mater.
OK, maybe hate is too strong a word to describe my feelings for a fictional cartoon tow truck. I seriously dislike Mater. Yes, I get that he’s the comedy relief sidekick, but there are good comedy relief sidekicks and there are bad ones.
Barney Fife: Good comedy relief sidekick. Tow Mater: Bad comedy relief sidekick.
And I get that kids love this dim-witted, well-meaning, loyal-and-true, rusty guy, but I’m not a kid. He gets on my last nerve.
But I can handle Mater. After all, he’s the sidekick. The real star is race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), right? Mater’s just going to make the occasional dumb gag while Lightning and Finn McMissile solve some exciting crime, right?
Well… Lightning is invited to race in a World Grand Prix and invites Mater along. Through a series of misunderstandings, Finn believes Mater is an American secret agent sent to help him with the case. Finn and partner Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) enlist Mater to help them even though he doesn’t know what’s going on (Finn assumes his befuddled nature is just an act).
In other words, Mater is now the star of the show and Lightning has been reduced to sidekick/subplot. “Cars 2” is just too much Mater for me to stand.
If you and your children do not share my feelings about Mater, you will probably enjoy “Cars 2.” The animation, as always, is first-rate. It’s a treat to see Japan, Italy and England rendered Pixar-style. The rivalry between Lightning and arrogant race car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) is fun. There are some nifty action sequences and smart use of spy gadgets and whatnot. There’s no denying the creativity of the people at Pixar.
But the spy plot is confusing and silly. To make matters worse, it ends with your standard surprise villain reveal which shouldn’t be a surprise since there’s only one person the bad guy could be. There’s also about one or two too many endings.
Did it work for me? “Cars 2” should do well with its target audience, and it has a nice message about loyalty to one’s friends and it’s a feel-good film. How much adults love it will depend on how high your tolerance level is for the cornpone comedy of Mater. I think I’ve made my thoughts quite clear on that topic.