And the summertime tradition continues. The annual Pixar release is upon us, celebrating (to my surprise) Pixar’s 25th year.
Cars 2 is the second successive year that the company has released a direct sequel to one of its previous hits and whereas releasing a sequel that features established and well loved characters makes excellent financial sense, particularly from a toy marketing perspective I for one, am far more keen to see Pixar push the envelope and enter some new realms.
It’s not that I have anything against sequels or trilogies. Toy Story 3 blew me away last summer with its bittersweet ending, making it a perfect trilogy that dealt with various stages of working life that most of us will have to contend with at one time or other. Okay - let me explain this - pit aside the fact that they’re all toys for a second and follow me on this. The first had the loyal employee usurped by a younger, more dynamic newcomer forcing him to find his own way forward to remain relevant. The second dealt with head-hunting valued employees and having friends and colleagues move on, while the third was a stark tale of redundancy and finding oneself on the scrap heap.
So, cleverly, the kids could enjoy talking toys, while the adults could marvel at the visuals and see a deeper meaning. Essentially, Pixar’s geniuses know what Walt Disney himself knew. There’s a strong dividing line between a kid’s movie and a family film.
Sadly, Cars 2 is no Toy Story, and for the first time ever, I left the cinema after a Pixar film, feeling a little underwhelmed.
There’s a saying that some of you might be familiar with: "Jumping the shark".
This dates back to the days of the Happy Days TV series of the seventies. Happy Days was a feelgood comedy, set in the late 50s/early 60s and was inspired largely by the success of George Lucas’s American Grafitti. Henry Winkler played Arthur Fonzarelli who was kind of a rebel, a black leather jacketed biker in the Marlon Brando "Wild Ones" mould, but with a heart of gold, who lodged with the Cunningham family and inevitably helped them out of whatever problem or predicament they found themselves in that particular week.
In one of the last seasons, there was an episode where The Fonz was supposed to jump over a shark pool . This was out of character and jarringly out of the realm of the post wartime all American family domestic setting of the series, and thus gave rise to the saying, used whenever a situation breaks the established "reality" of a series or films by pushing the boundaries too far.
This is exactly what happens in Cars 2. Its central storyline has hillbilly, simpleton, rusty old tow truck Mater mistaken for a master spy and become embroiled in a fast moving espionage thriller that is a pastiche of the spy craze of the sixties, referencing Bond films and the Man From U.N.C.L.E. (of which director and Pixar head John Lassiter is reportedly a huge fan).
Do I like spy thrillers? Of course I do. Comedy spy thrillers, referencing the cult classics of the genre? Fine by me. I’ve seen the originals enough times to get all the in-jokes and references...but it’s just not Cars, damn it.
The original Cars was a heart-warming movie that was as much about the relentless and merciless march of progress as it was about, well, talking cars. The town of Radiator Springs is a small desert community that was used to the business brought in by travellers who’d stop by for a break on their journey to somewhere else. But the superhighway bypassed the town, and businesses were dying as travellers were more in a rush to get to their destination than to enjoy the actual journey. This is something I’ve experienced myself as the road I’ve travelled to my place of work has been straightened out quite a bit in the past 30 years and several villages are now bypassed completely. Quicker journey, sure. But not as colourful.
That basic, honest observation is missing in this film.
Visually, the film is mind blowing. The single hardest thing to animate convincingly in any medium, be it hand drawn or CGI, is water - the opening sequence with Bond Aston Martin inspired Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) on an oil rig at sea, is among the best looking seqiences of animation I’ve seen from Pixar, as are various races in the World Grand Prix, undertaken by Lightning McQueen with references to car culture ingeniously woven into the backgrounds and locations (Towkyo ?)
There are some great cameo characters, particularly the PopeMobile and the Queen, there are some laugh out loud comedy set pieces, particularly involving an automated Japanese toilet, which elevate this above and beyond most other animated movies - but even in the context of a cartoon, I found Mater’s story hard to swallow. Maybe when I re-watch it when the DVD is released, I’ll feel differently but these are my thoughts the morning after the cinema screening. - and if they DO want to make another sequel to one of their movies - let’s go with The Incredibles.
In the meantime I’m looking forward to Pixar’s next offering, an original movie called "Brave". Here's the teaser poster to what we have to look forward to in the summer of 2012.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.