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Cars 2
Reviewed by Laura Eldred, © 2011

Format: Movie
By:   John Lasseter & Brad Lewis
Genre:   Cars
Review Date:   July 01, 2011

Do you remember your first movie in the theater?

The huge screen, the deafening volume, the popcorn, your mom telling you to stop eating Raisinets off the theater floor?

There was something magical about the theater experience; reality seemed a bit washed-out and grubby when you left.

This was the first theater movie I took my daughter to. She’s 4, and mainly used to a diet of Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer. She’s seen the original Cars, and she liked it, though she prefers the horse movie Spirit or The Fantastic Mr. Fox, her two critical picks over the last year.

She’d take Dora over either of those though. We frequently find her standing in front of her brother with her hand out, yelling, "No swiping!"

So, she’s not one of the many young kids obsessed with all things Cars. I ask her what she thought of the movie.

"Did you like the movie?"

"No, I didn’t like it. I want to bring it home."

"Home, to watch in the basement? On the TV?"

"Yeah. What’s this?"

"A checkbook. That’s for Mommy and Daddy."

"Can I write my name in it? My Percy has ants in it and won’t go."

Well, it’s hard to have a clear, logical discussion with a four year old. My impression of her reaction is that she did like it. But she didn’t love it.

She found the whole experience interesting, but not overwhelmingly fun, maybe because in the age of home theaters and 50-inch plasma screens the movie theater isn’t that exciting anymore. It was annoying to have to sit still, to not be able to pause, to have to be quiet.

Older kids would manage those things better, but it still seems less and less that the extra-big screen is worth the money and aggravation.

I hoped that bringing my daughter to the film with me would add depth to the review, a different perspective, a kid’s-eye evaluation. What she has to offer: a considered preference for Percy the train without imagined ants in its funnel and an endless desire to draw all over adult papers.

So, I’ll pick up the review.

The film was fun and quite enjoyable, though I have some reservations. The basic idea is that Lightning McQueen goes abroad with his crew for a series of three races designed to promote an alternative fuel, Allinol. While they’re in Japan, Mater gets mixed up in a complex espionage plot that eventually is tied into the racing series. The film feels like Cars meets some PG version of James Bond.

The G rating seems optimistic. There’s a lot of violence in the film—animated violence, certainly. But it’s made quite clear that various car characters die: for instance, one villain car falls from a great height into water, then his wheels and various car parts bob up onto the surface. It’s hard to merge with the spy genre without some deaths, but this element makes Cars 2 a darker film than the original, perhaps best for kids who were 4 or 5 in 2006 when the original came out, and who’ve now grown into a love of explosions, gunfights, and spy gadgets.

There is actually been some controversy about the rating (see http://www.screened.com/news/was-cars-2-too-violent-for-a-g-rating/2473/), and I generally would agree that PG would have been more appropriate, though I’m not going to whip out my nunchucks over it. My daughter was scared at a couple points, but she got over it pretty quickly.

There is some ethnic stereotyping that’s potentially offensive: the Japanese are all about technology and Hello Kitty; Italians love food and family; the British like pubs, fights, and spying. On the one hand, it’s fairly innocuous stuff. On the other hand, I’m not sure that it’s best to teach kids about the world through the lens of ethnic stereotypes.

On the plus side, there’s some beautiful animation. The ocean scene that opens the film showcases gorgeous and quite realistic waves. There are also some really clever, funny bits, like when all the cars have to take off their wheels to go through airport scanners.

And Bruce Campbell is in it! I’ll let you have the fun of recognizing his voice when it shows up.

If this film were any original film, and not part of a series, I’d say that it was quite strong and good fun. And it is. But the fact that it’s Cars 2 forces a comparison with the original Cars, and that’s where this film just doesn’t cut it.

The original was a great children’s film about friendship, altruism, and caring. Like Toy Story before it, it underlined for us that children’s films don’t have to be only for children, that we don’t need death, destruction, and mayhem to make a great movie. Parents loved the movie too.

Pixar has over the last twenty-five years given us a rich tapestry of truly great children’s entertainment that also was great entertainment, period: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, Wall-E, and Ratatouille, to name a few.

Cars, in particular, tapped into our nostalgia—our yearning for the small-town America of the 1950s and 1960s. When the small Route 66 town of Radiator Springs is rescued, it seems to promise us that we’re still, or we still could be, that kind of America. It doesn’t have to be all huge highways and Walmarts and endless stripmalls; we can still bring it back. The proud, heartless individualist, all about money and self, is tamed and brought into the community. It was Owen Wilson, before his suicide attempt. Pure innocence and optimism.

Cars 2 is not up to that standard. It’s not bad, but placing it alongside the original film only forces its flaws into greater relief. It has nothing particularly deep to say, other than about the importance of friendship: the great universal message that any children’s film or TV show ever made beats into the ground.

I guess my reaction isn’t that different from my daughter’s, though I have a wider vocabulary and hopefully more logical thought structure. It was interesting, but I prefer other things.

For a long time, Pixar has been a parental standby: great and dependable, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made of film. Let’s just hope that this isn’t the start of a slide downward. The next movie could feature Mater sliding into a mud wrestling pit filled with semi-dressed Lamborghini girls. “Git-R-done,” indeed.


RevSF Staff Writer Laura Eldred prefers her film sandwiches very lightly toasted.

 
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