Jun 28, 2011

Cars 2

As any of the millions of readers of this blog can attest, I am a huge Pixar fan.  I frequently bemoan their lack of respect when it comes to the Oscars.  I consider them some of our greatest modern artists.  I also have raved about their story telling.  I have even ranked all the Pixar movies - just so you can have a handy authoritative guide on Pixar.  Even though I used to go to anys. movie that came out, finances and three kids have made that an impossibility now.  I frequently miss even movies I really want to see.  But, I never miss a Pixar movie.  [The fact that Disney almost pays you go to their movies now through promotional tie-ins certainly doesn't hurt.]

Cars 2 has now entered the Pixar universe.  Obviously, we were going.  I really liked the first movie.  My oldest son was a huge fan of the franchise and owned a bunch of the cars and tracks.  My youngest son has now discovered his older brother's cache of cars and is a fan himself.  All three kids have been waiting for the movie to come out.  And we had two free tickets.  In the words of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, "We're there."

I had heard some negative reviews of Cars 2.  That was a shock in and of itself.  Pixar movies don't get negative reviews.  They are bullet proof.  It wasn't going to stop us from going, but I was a big concerned.  Then I read a very interesting article on the Orlando Sentinel, of all places.  And it was written by Roger Moore, of all people.  I have usually felt Moore's movie reviews were useful for lining bird cages and not much else.  (Since I only read the electronic version of his reviews, I obviously meant lining Angry Bird cages.)  But, recently, I have noticed his commenting on the movie industry in general is vastly superior to his movie reviewing.  He talked about the "retroactive movie review."  This is where a critic rips into a movie that becomes a big hit, or overly praising a dog meat movie.  They usually will rectify this by going too far the OTHER way with a sequel.  His example was Siskel and Ebert ripping into Ace Ventura when it came out.  It was a runaway blockbuster.  So, they actually praised the idiotic sequel - even though it really sucked (even when considering it was a Jim Carrey movie).  It is the movie equivalent of basketball's "make up call."

The original Cars movie was overrated.  I was guilty of that.  It was undeniably gorgeous.  But it was a little boring, especially to kids.  And it was not very original.  I commented at the time that its plot was basically a retelling of Michael J Fox's Doc Hollywood - a movie no one is considering rebooting.  When I made my list of Pixar movies, it was last.  Admittedly, that is not necessarily an insult, since the worst Pixar movie is better than the best most other studios have to offer.  It was an adult movie masquerading as a kids' movie.  Kids don't understand the message of "take it slow and enjoy the ride."  They are too busy making life seem like it racing by.  So, according to Moore's theory, this attack by the critics was to make up for lavishing too much praise on the original film.

I don't know if Moore is right or not.  Personally, I think he has some validity.  Cars became a runaway hit NOT because of the movie itself.  Rather, it was because of the merchandise tie-ins.  It was the most licensed movie ever when it came out.  And those licensed toys made a fortune.  The little metal toy versions of the Cars characters were brilliant.  They created a third line of toy cars - right along side Matchbox and Hot Wheels.  And the sheer brilliance of it was that, while a Matchbox car costs 97 cents, a Cars car cost four bucks.  My son had tons of these cars.  You looked for the rare ones.  And they kept bringing them out.  There was regular McQueen, dirt track McQueen, tongue out McQueen, Radiator Springs McQueen, Dinoco McQueen.  They did the same thing with Ramone (available in just about every color) and Mater.  Then they brought out the "World of Cars" line and put the characters in different places.

Disney also realized that kids liked the Mater character way more than the Lightning McQueen character.  They liked the concept of McQueen.  But he was the straight man to the wild and crazy Mater.  You began to see more toys focusing on Mater.  It was a case of the sidekick superseding the star.  Pixar is far from stupid - they know where the money is.  They put out a line of shorts on Disney called Mater's Tall Tales - which spun into its own DVD and toy line.  Kids loved everything about Cars - except Cars itself.

So the second movie had a specific goal.  I know this had to be true.  They wanted to entertain the kids.  This was not going to be the well written, artistic home runs like some Pixar movies.  The last four films all could have earned Best Picture Oscars (Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3).  This was going to be an action-packed, comedy-filled, fun kids-magnet movie.  And on that front, they nailed it.  I remember taking Josiah to Cars and realizing that he zoned out for vast stretches of the Radiator Springs section.  When he watched the DVD, he would get really into the beginning and end.  Most of the middle he would go back and act out the beginning.  Gabe has been the same way.  He'll watch the first thirty minutes and then wander off or ask to watch Veggie Tales.

Last night, kids were engaged in the movie.  There was action and silliness.  There were four different racing scenes.  There was lots and lots of Mater.  It was everything the kids loved about the Cars universe with little of the adult navel gazing.  The "message" of the movie was even more kid friendly - love your friends just like they are.  Kids don't read movie reviews.  They see toys and cereal boxes and posters.  And so Disney got just what they wanted.  They reinforced a brand that was already very strong.  If possible, they made it even MORE kid friendly.  There are now more characters to spin adventures off from, more licensed products, more money.  And my oldest son walked out of the theater wondering when Cars 3 would be released.

It was far from original.  I think the whole alternative fuel plot may have actually been stolen from Quantum of Solace.  What was original was the amazing visuals.  They were incredible.  The scenes in Europe looks so realistic they were almost like photos.  The rolling waves in the opening were incredibly rendered.  And the way that Pixar worked this action movie around cars was pretty impressive.  I like how they give certain vehicles certain personalities.  The evil submarine/boat looks like sharks.  And I always find it funny how they represent facial hair with fenders and license plates.  (The Russian mobster cars all looked like they had scruffy beards.  The Italian cars had little pencil mustaches.)  And the vocal talent, as usual, was top notch.  My personal favorite was Bruce Campbell popping up as an American spy car - basically playing his Burn Notice "Sam Axe" character in car form.

The movie was fun.  It wasn't ground breaking or Oscar worthy.  But it was fun and exciting.  The kids will want to watch it again on DVD when it comes out.  Gabe and Josiah have already begun asking for the new cars and Lego sets.  It seems like Disney and Pixar accomplished their goals.  When a really respected actor makes some blockbuster movie with little artistic merit (Ben Kingsley in Prince of Persia, for example), they often will say, "I have to pay the bills.  I make these movies so I can make those other movies."  This was a bill paying movie for Pixar.


Benji said...

What do you think about some of the comments people are making about the movie having a "green" undertone to it? I've seen some friends on FB say they won't buy it on DVD because it has too much of a "hidden" message (though its no Enviropals). Did you get that sense watching it?

David M. Staples said...

Yes, it has a green undertone to it. But this shouldn't be surprising. The entire movie WALL-E was about that. I picked up on it during the film. I kept thinking, "Well, it's pretty obvious that they are for alternative fuels." But I'm not offended by that. I think we do need to develop those technologies.