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It seems almost a sin to admit disliking anything that blooms from the fabulous Pixar studios.  Those folks in Emeryville, CA are responsible for some of the most excellent bits of animation the world has ever seen.  Toy Story (take your pick which number), Monsters Inc., the mind-bogglingly underrated A Bug’s Life, The Incredibles and Up, name just a few of their invaluable contributions to motion picture entertainment.  I adore Pixar, which is why it feels treacherous to disclose that the one feature of theirs I not only feel isn’t up to their standard, but actively dislike is 2006‘s Cars.  It just bored me out of my mind.  The premise didn’t do a thing for me and the pacing is one of the best cures for insomnia around.  There is less character development in Cars than any of the other Pixars, which is usually great at creating a memorable cast.  I found Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen terribly one-dimensionally (no pun intended) and excepting the late, great Paul Newman’s role as Doc Hudson, I couldn’t care less for any of the others. I remember feeling a particular dislike for the tiresome (no pun intended v.2) backwater oaf, Tow Mater.  I was not thrilled to discover that the inevitable sequel, Cars 2, would have Mater as its focus.  Having now viewed the film, I must once again thank the cinema gods for the creation of Michael Caine (- as I do daily, anyway) for being one of the few things of value in this sequel that’s only slightly better than the original.

Cars 2 starts off with Caine playing a facsimile of the role that got away, James Bond. Caine voices a pale blue 1966 Aston Martin, very like the ones 007 made famous.  He is tracking the whereabouts of mysterious weapon on behalf of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and once discovered by the bad guys, employs very “Q”-like secret gadgets; including hidden tow cables, a variety of weapons ejecting from the headlights and the ability to transform into a sub or hydroplane to make his escape.  Meanwhile in sunny Radiator Springs, racing champ Lightning McQueen’s holiday back home is cut short when he is called out on an around the world challenge against a mouthy Formula One racer from Italy.  The catch is the cars will be using a brand new type of fuel that isn’t made from oil.  When the cars suddenly catch fire mid-race, is it because of the experimental fuel or the mysterious weapon?  Our other question is whether it’s the new fuel or Mater’s joining McQueen’s pit crew that will cause Lightning to burn up first?

A whole lot of subplot for a simple children’s film.  What on earth does the kindergarten-grade school demo that Cars 2 is ostensibly made for know about renewable energy and fossil fuels?  How aware are they of vehicles like the Gremlin, Pacer or the other “lemons” that play a big part in the story?  Then we have the prospect of the round the world race which features some Pixar-gorgeous elements in Italy, France and Japan (including a song by the excellent Japanese pop group, Perfume!), but shown in such a vacuum there’s not a lot of absorb.  My biggest problem with Cars 2 besides the clogged and convoluted storyline was its main star, the hapless tow-truck, Mater.  I get that he’s the goof and a simpleton meant to be silly and lovable to the under-twelves, but I couldn’t stand him.  There’s a fine line between slapstick and mentally deficient and Mater’s written way over to the other side in the attempt to make him humourous.  Mater is presented as a good ol’ boy redneck whose naïveté about the world outside Radiator Springs gives us comedy that’s just not worthy of a feature; his first explosive taste of wasabi and his experience with a high-tech Japanese bathroom are all predictably noisy and chaotic.  Over and over he bungles, causing Lightning, who just wanted to come home and relax after winning another title to be taunted into the World Grand Prix in the first place, then becoming the reason Lightning loses a challenge.  Lightning, who gave Mater chance after chance to straighten up, is quite understandably enraged, but for some reason McQueen must regret getting angry and is further made to feel badly for not accepting the tow-truck for the imbecile he is.  Go on, Mater, keep screwing up and learning nothing; it’s okay, you never have to do better and you can let people down because we love you anyway.  Great lesson for the kiddies.

I’m sure the audience Cars 2 is made for won’t mind Mater nearly as much as I did, but in the end, the shtick is tiresome.  Thank goodness for the vocal talents and distraction of the brilliant Michael Caine playing a cockney James Bond anthropomorphised as Finn McMissle, the old spy car.  His feats of derring-do and endless supply of secret gadgets are some of the most inventive action in the film and the Bond in-jokes are some of the only interesting moments for the grown-up viewers.  John Turturro as the Italian Formula One racer is hilarious and there are memorable voicings from Eddie Izzard, Jason Issacs, Bruce Campbell and Helen Mirren, once again playing the Queen of England – sort of.

Both Cars and Cars 2 are near the same placement on my Pixar scoreboard; down near the bottom.  Cars 2’s globe-spanning theme and really lovely graphics give the sequel a slight edge over its sire.  The kids will still be entertained and their parents will at least have some pretty art to look at, but I expect far more from that studio in Emeryville than this. 

 

Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation

Too bad the short attached to Cars 2 wasn’t played at the end; it might’ve made up for the nearly two hours of dissatisfaction that precedes it.  The Toy Story characters (who I knew we hadn’t heard the last of) make their debut in a new child’s bedroom with all the familiar faces and a few additions from Toy Story 3.  Bonnie and her family’s Hawaiian vacation gives her toys some relaxing alone time, which makes everyone happy except for fashion doll Ken, who planned on stowing away in Bonnie’s bag with his eternal love Barbie.  Once there, Ken had a whole itinerary planned, ending with his and the blonde bombshell’s first kiss.  Luckily, they’ve got a friend in Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the toys, who transform the bedroom into a beautiful Pacific isle, giving the pair a holiday to remember.

All the charm missing from Cars 2 is heaped on Hawaiian Vacation.  Director Lee Unkrich skimmed the best bits of Toy Story 3; the presence of the sweet and vacuous Ken and Barbie (- Hilariously voiced by Michael Keaton and Jodi Benson with both dolls dressed in their actual vintage fashions) and an appearance by Spanish-speaking Buzz.  Hawaiian Vacation has all the sweetness and clever laughs I expect from a Pixar film.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 24th, 2011

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Disney/  Pixar)

 

 

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