Originally published on Creators.co on June 16th, 2017
I am a big Pixar fan. It’s not hard to be one when they consistently put out great film after great film. For a while, I contended they are the best studio in North America (certainly in animation). It’s true that in the past decade or so they haven’t been as good as they used to be, but they still haven’t put out any really bad films (some lesser ones like Brave and The Good Dinosaur but not bad movies). The only bad film they have ever released (up to this point) has been Cars 2. You might be screaming, what about Planes?! Planes wasn’t a Pixar film. Planes was made by DisneyToon Studios (not even Disney Animation). I like the first Cars. It wasn’t as good as the other films they put out at that time, but I don’t think there is anything really bad about it. It is predictable but still a nice little movie. I still watch it alongside other Pixar movies and enjoy it.
Cars 2 however, not so much. I’ve tried to give it a chance but it really doesn’t work for me. And with the release of Cars 3, it’s taken my mind back to Cars 2. I don’t like to be excessively negative but it’s because I am a massive Pixar fan that makes this film really disappointing and worth talking about. I think there is an opportunity to take a look at Cars 2 and see where this movie went wrong. These are 5 mistakes Pixar made making Cars 2.
#1-Changing The Lead Character
This is the easiest mistake to see. In the original Cars, we followed the hotshot rookie Lightning McQueen as he learned how to become more humbled by accidentally coming across this small town. McQueen is your lead character. He comes across many colorful side characters in that town that helped him along with the journey. The most famous of those characters was Mater, played by Larry the Cable the Guy. Although sometimes annoying, he was relatively harmless, and there was little to his character outside of being a funny side character. The poster to Cars 2 had Lightning McQueen still front and center, suggesting that he was the main lead once again.
But when you watch Cars 2, you quickly learn it is not Lightning’s movie, it is Mater’s. Sure, Lightning is there and has his own storyline, but this is really Mater’s movie. We spend the most amount of time with him, his hijinks, and his misadventures, which is a big problem. I know some people hate Mater, but I think in small doses he can be a pretty fun character. But he is not a lead character. He doesn’t have much depth to him, he can’t carry a movie, and after a while, he does get annoying. He just isn’t interesting. If you’re going to put this movie on his shoulders, don’t be surprised when the movie collapses around him. I think there is a bigger reason why he and the movie don’t work, but that’s worthy of a different reason which we’ll get to a little later.
#2- Having a convoluted and confusing storyline
Pixar is great at taking simple ideas and getting a lot of mileage out them. No Pixar movies don’t have the most complex plots but that’s not a weakness of their films. Their stories are so told. I’m not against them attempting to tell a more complex story. Cars 2 though mixes up confusing with complex. I’ve never claimed to be the smartest person in the world but even I had trouble following the plot with all the conspiracies, espionage and laughable attempt at a big twist. Perhaps it’s trying to do more than the average family film, but it doesn’t achieve what it is attempting.
#3-Changing Its Identity
You want to see a series evolve. Doing the same thing over and over again will get old fast (Hangover franchise anyone?). Then again, I reject the notion that just because something or someone is trying something new and trying to evolve, that means it’s good. Sometimes an experiment doesn’t work. Linkin Park’s new album is proof of that (okay, that was a cheap shot). I don’t know exactly what Cars 2was, Pixar trying something different with their Cars franchise or simply evolving the series? Regardless of what it was, Cars 2 lost something crucial in the process: its identity. The first movie was about racing, humbling a pre-Madonna, and learning about things that are more important than winning. Cars 2 is about spies. I don’t know where the spy angle came from, but it feels like it’s straight out of left field. Seeing that Cars 3 was about the end of Lightning’s career, maybe Cars 2should have kept the racing angle as the main thrust of the series. Then the trilogy would show the beginning, middle and end of his career (if that is indeed what happens in Cars 3, I haven’t seen it yet).
There are at least three different movies going on throughout Cars 2. You have Lightning going over to drive in the Grand Prix, you have the fish out of water storyline with Mater, and then you have the spy espionage story. Sometimes they mesh together, but a lot of times they feel disconnected. What is this movie about? Maybe a spy movie could have worked, but then you have to completely commit to that.
#4-Lacked emotional heart
As I’ve stated in the previous point, this movie’s story structure is all over the place. Its lack of identity really feeds into the issue of a lack of an emotional core. Through almost every single one of Pixar’s movies, you can find the emotional core of the movie. Finding Nemo, it’s being a parent. Wall-E is the love story between Wall-E and Eve. Toy Story, it’s the growth of Woody and Buzz’s friendship and what that means to Andy. With the original Cars, it was Lightning and how the town changed him. With Cars 2, what is it? I suppose it’s about Lightning and Mater’s friendship, but they aren’t together for the majority of the movie. So how can the emotional core of the movie be about friendship when the majority of the plot keeps them away from each other and both doing their own things? If the movie’s emotional core is the friendship, then it really doesn’t show. Only seldom does the movie cut back to that. The emotional core of this movie doesn’t drive the characters or the plot. The majority of the movie feels episodic and not character driven.
#5-The Idea For This Movie Is A Joke
This is the bigger reason I was referring to back when I was talking about Mater. Where did the idea for Cars 2 come from? John Lasseter actually shared that stating that the idea came when he was promoting the first movie.
I kept looking out thinking, ‘What would Mater do in this situation, you know?’ I could imagine him driving around on the wrong side of the road in the UK, going around in big, giant traveling circles in Paris, on the autobahn in Germany, dealing with the motor scooters in Italy, trying to figure out road signs in Japan
That is a simple idea, but the problem with the idea is that it is a gag. The gag is Mater misunderstanding traffic laws in other countries. There isn’t much substance that you can really stretch it out with, keeping with that basic premise. That could be a cute and funny short film. You could release it in front of another Pixar movie or package it with one the Pixar Shorts Blu-Ray sets. When the base of your movie is one joke, it’s hard to give the rest of your film much structure. Perhaps this is why the movie consists mostly of gags and attempts at comedy. The spy storyline and everything else is the secondary. It’s bizarre to see this type of approach taken by director John Lasseter. Lasseter is one of the best storytellers there is right now. The fundamental problem with this movie is a joke that honestly isn’t really funny because Mater just gets annoying after a while (I know for some he gets annoying really quickly).
Is there anything Cars 2 does right? There is no discounting the terrific animation that Pixar produces. Outside of that, there isn’t too much that I really enjoy about the flick. There isn’t anything really offensive about it, I think kids would and probably do enjoy it (and to be fair there are worse kid’s entertainment out there). I expect more out of Pixar and that’s not unwarranted with the level of quality Pixar commands. Cars 3 is released this Friday, and I am starting to get more excited for it (or at the very least intrigued). No one asked for Cars 3, but I do hope it brings back some better fortune to the franchise.