Friday, June 24, 2011

Much has been made of the incessant ad campaign for Cars 2 reaching saturation point, and it’s possible that this big promotional push is responsible for the backlash by way of bad reviews for Cars 2. The campaign has built expectation, and with Pixar having had an impressive run of success stories, for fans of their films anything short of spectacular might disappoint.

It is true that Cars 2 doesn’t have the intensity and gravitas that Up, Wall-E, or even Toy Story 3 has. The story is part spy spoof, part race movie, neither genres of which are known for their emotional depth, but the story, which involves alternate fuel, a clandestine supervillain ruining race cars, a strained friendship, and a race in three international locales, hardly matters.

That story is the plain chassis for a seriously souped up and eyepopping visual romp that this reviewer believes will satisfy both adults and kids. Though it’s not likely they’ll put the movie in their top ten animated features, it’s certainly enjoyable summer fun.

Children will love the dramatic hyper colorized palette, the mile or kilometer a minute action sequences, and the enormous number of sight gags offered by the stars and huge supporting cast. The more attention-challenged kids may or may not be amply distracted for the 113 minute running time.

The adults, especially car lovers and spy flick fans, will want to watch the movie repeatedly so they can catch the hundreds of tiny details and little jokes that make up a universe populated exclusively with motorized vehicles, many of which will have them laughing out loud and will zoom past the kids. It’s like a neverending adult version of I-Spy! Clever, that John Lasseter, who both co-directed and wrote the story, but then, we knew that.

Lasseter, who already has plenty to do as chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, was drawn to revisiting Cars. He says the first movie was very personal to him.

“My father was a parts manager for a Chevrolet dealer,” he says, “I grew up in a car dealership, I worked there on weekends and summers all through the heyday of the great American, Chevrolet muscle cars. I have motor oil running through my veins.”

His passion must have been infectious. They got 30 different car companies to agree to let Pixar use their models in the film, with the villain of the movie being a model from a now defunct automaker.

Lasseter’s passion and personal history is also clear in the movie’s inventiveness and creativity, the meticulous way intricate details are incorporated to integrate our world’s landmarks and experiences into the world of cars. Says Lasseter, “this is probably more complex by a factor of 10, than any other Pixar film.” There are about 120 sets and more than 150 original characters in the movie, all of which had to be built from scratch.

Cars 2 is without a doubt visually spectacular, with so many impressive advancements you can’t help but drop your jaw at first, but the world is so believable you get used to things like the gorgeous water effects and the crowd work. That crowd work has more than all the previous Pixar movies combined. The voices all do a fine job. The list of new models and cameos include Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jeff Gordon, John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Isaacs, Bruce Campbell, Vanessa Redgrave, and Lasseter himself.

With more than 150 characters, there are lots of them to enjoy, although not necessarily to connect with in any lasting way. While a little Larry the Cable Guy goes a long way, everyone can relate somehow to Mater’s feeling out of place. His story in Cars 2, the small town bumpkin feeling alien and bumbling in the big glitzy city, was partly inspired by Lasseter’s experience when he was invited to a Formula 1 party in Milan and showed up in his usual Hawaiian shirt and jeans, only to discover everyone in black tie, Armani, and couture.

Yes, the movie has some weak spots. A little long, a little light on story, and, gratefully, heavy on visuals…but I say, with Pixar, do we always need missing parents and tearjerking, with tissues always an arm’s reach away? Let’s just have a little frivolity. A little fun.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.