Cars represents something different for Pixar when it comes to them turning films into franchises. Toy Story had two sequels because that franchise had more stories to tell as a whole. Cars 2 represents Pixar descending into making a film for commercial purposes, i.e. because they could sell tickets and other related merchandise, as opposed to having more story to tell. The good thing, though, is that it’s a fairly entertaining story.
This time around Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) takes center stage from racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). McQueen enters a worldwide Grand Prix organized by an eccentric billionaire (Eddie Izzard) trying to prove that alternate fuels can outperform oil. Taunted by an Italian Formula One race car (John Turturro), McQueen is challenged further than he has in years. Accompanying McQueen for the first time ever, Mater winds up involved with British Intelligence (Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) as they try to take down an unseen force trying to ruin everything.
Stealing the film from Lightning McQueen’s quest for self exploration in Cars, the film focuses on Mater this time and relegates the bulk of the original characters to the background as Mater becomes an idiot savant in the spy game. This is a sequel to Cars in name only as it’s almost better described as a spin-off for Mater. This is his film, for better or worse, and it marks something remarkable as Larry the Cable Guy finally is able to carry a film on his own.
His particular manner of comedy doesn’t work on the big screen in live action but seems to have found a niche in animation like Jack Black does. He has a great voice for animation but doesn’t have the sort of style to carry a film when it comes to live action. Mater is a loveable goof that he has given likability to. Mater is someone we laugh with as opposed to laughing at. There’s an inner sweetness to him that you can’t help but like and it makes the character’s story arc, of discovering that it’s ok to be himself, something we can invested in.
It’s odd to think of someone with limited drawing power like Larry the Cable Guy being the impetus to carry a major film in the same way that Black carries the Kung Fu Panda franchise. No one else could provide that voice and that ability to use comedy in the same manner many actors use drama: to bring out more than just a base emotion. But the problem with Cars 2 comes from its inability as a whole to provide this story-wise.
It’s odd to think of a Pixar film as existing merely to sell toys and that’s exactly how it feels. There’s nothing to this film that screams that there was more from the first film that wasn’t explored. With all the new characters it seems like the film was designed to sell more toys, et al, as opposed to further the original story. It’s well done and exciting but there’s nothing that engages us beyond the superficial. Mater keeps us from noticing this, and the parts of the film without him in it drag as a result, but the film doesn’t have the same sort of heart that Cars did.
It’s important to notice this because it’s what defined the Toy Story franchise and every attempt at a franchise Pixar attempts from now on. They didn’t exploit that franchise for the merchandise; Toy Story as a whole is about childhood and growing up, about the maturation process, viewed through the prism of childhood toys. The reason why the ending of the third film in that franchise resonated as strongly as it did was because we felt the same pain in letting go of childhood that Andy did. Letting go of that at the end is a universal experience and the two films beforehand set it up, making the emotional aspect of it that much more powerful. Pixar had a path they were walking with that franchise; it lent them that much more credibility because they didn’t do a cheap cash in like they could’ve.
The emptiness of Cars 2 resonates that much more because of it. The reason why a franchise like Ice Age, et al, is repetitive is because it’s a cheap cash in from the first. There’s no new story tell, it’s just more of the same. And as a whole every animated franchise outside of Pixar suffers from this. Pixar was thought to be beyond this, mainly because there one franchise had that special attribute. Cars 2 is that much more disappointing because of it.
Pixar is supposed to be better than this.
Director: John Lesseter & Brad Lewis Notable Voice Cast: Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Eddie Izzard Writer(s): Ben Queen