Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cars 2: Pixar Not Running Out of Gas After All

I love Pixar.

I really do! I think they are the most creative animation studio out there today. I love their interesting stories, and ESPECIALLY love that they have strong characters that don't fit the typical mold.

The crochety old guy in Up, everyone's favorite enviro robot Wall-E, etc.

But I had heard that Cars 2 was not one of Pixar's best, and I am not much of a Nascar fan, and not particularly fond of the original Cars movie (it's the idea of Cars populating the whole world that bothers me a bit, rather than existing in ours like the toys from Toy Story. I don't know why, but it just feels...weird). 

I am also...not a huge fan of "Mater". I imagine a lot of adults view Mater, as voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, in the same way that I do: as the Jar Jar Binks of the Cars universe.

Kids love him. Adults? Not so much.

So I did not go into this review with high expectations as I sat down to watch Cars 2 on Bluray.

But I am so happy to say that I actually LIKED Cars 2 ! I really did.

It has all the components I've come to expect from a winning Pixar film:

AMAZING Animation--The artistry of the animators captured me from the very first scene in the movie. The turbulent, rolling sea, for instance, is just beautifully done. The animation reminded me of when I first saw Finding Nemo, actually, and how REAL the water looked there. Except this time, it was more like an ocean of the Perfect Storm variety, a dangerous, unfriendly ocean. 

Definitely up to Pixar's standards. Lighting, scenery--it's all spectacular. I could watch this movie for its artistic quality alone (which is kind of a good thing, as Mater, never been my favorite character, does have WAY too big a role in the film).

Voice Talent:

Owen Wilson is back reprising his role as race car Lightning McQueen.

Rod “Torque” Redline--voiced by Bruce Campbell. He's the "greatest American spy in the world", who Mater is confused for (his part in the movie is actually pretty small).

Finn McMissile--Michael Caine! The car even has a David Niven-style English gentleman mustache painted on. Nice touch. His character is like the cool car secret agent James Bond drives, with all the bells and whistles, except that the cool car IS the secret agent.

Holly Shiftwell--Emily Mortimer (she has a lovely voice, but I've found her pretty forgettable in other roles, sorry to say). Rookie British agent under the tutelage of Finn McMissile.

Tater--Larry the Cable Guy. *sigh*

Sir Miles Axelrod--voiced by comedian Eddie Izzard. This is one of those neat factoids that I, as a language nerd, like (discovered on Wikipedia): his last name, a portmanteau of "axle" and "rod", is a reference to Mr. Izzard's stand-up routine about the invention of the wheel and axle.

Francesco Bernoulli--John Turturro, a talented comedic and dramatic actor who also starred, God knows why, in the Transformers movies as a Sector 7 agent, clearly has a lot of fun with this role. He's a single-seater, Formula 1 style race car (, with sexy "open wheels", whatever that means. These are much admired by the ladies.

Professor Zündapp--Respected German actor Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie, Eichmann), basically spoofing the villainous German role he has portrayed so well in the past.
Zündapp's henchman are Grem (voiced by Joe Mantegna) and Acer (voiced by Peter Jacobson), Gremlin and Pacer "Lemons"  that have a chip on their shoulder because the other cars never took them seriously. *sniffle*
I personally don't know a lot about various car makes, other than that Gremlins do indeed have a bad reputation as lemons (and that Italian cars are damned sexy).


Okay, admittedly this is the weakest link in the big three. The plot for Cars 2 can best be summarized as what TV Tropes has dubbed "Mistaken for Spies". In this version, Mater plays the pivotal role of (I love this term) "Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass."

If you want the less abbreviated version, here it is:

Mater calls in to Sir Miles Axlerod's show to defend his friend, Lightning McQueen. Axlerod has supposedly created an alternative fuel that will make gasoline-powered cars obsolete, and when he and Bernoulli poke fun at gasoline-powered McQueen on-air, loyal Tater gets upset, and is in turn insulted. So Lightning McQueen takes up the challenge and agrees to join the Grand Prix (normally the purview of Formula 1 cars like Francesco Bernoulli) race, much to Tater's delight. 

At girlfriend Sally's request (I forgot to mention her in the voice talent, but her part in the movie is TINY), McQueen takes Mater along with him (and the gang from Radiator Springs, who serve as his race crew) to see the world on the Grand Prix racing circuit. 

After Mater embarrasses Lightning repeatedly in Japan and accidentally causes LIghtning to lose that leg of the race, Lightning McQueen lashes out against his best friend. Mater decides to quit the race and go home rather than cause any more trouble.

Instead, Mater is intercepted by experienced British agents Finn McMissile and his rookie field agent Holly Shiftwell, who enlist Mater's  help (though Mater at first thinks Sally wants to date him). The agents, due to a tracking device planted on Mater in a desperate situation (read: silly bathroom humor scene), mistakenly believe him to be Rod "Torque" Redline, the greatest spy in the world, and an American agent. Tater's "Aw, shucks," Average Joe routine and embarrassing antics are viewed as an ingenious disguise he chooses to assume in order to throw off enemy suspicion.

Spoilers (though you probably guessed this already): In the time-honored tradition, the rookie agent, Holly Shiftwell, and the Average Joe Mater, aided by a repentant Lightning McQueen, save the day after desperate circumstances bring out the best in them, earning them the respect they deserve as under-appreciated, diamond-in-the-rough good guys. 

Oh, and Mater gets the girl. ; )

Viv's take: I liked Cars 2, and I'm thrilled, because Pixar deserves the accolades. The movie is predictable, but the voice talent and animation more than make up for a rather tired plot. And, in the Cars 2 Bluray combo pack ($39.99), you get a digital copy for your computer AND the HD DVD as well!

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