CAUTION: THERE MAY BE MINOR SPOILERS FOR CARS 2 (2011) MENTIONED BELOW
Disney/PIXAR's Cars 3 (2017) is now out in theaters, and that got us to thinking about Cars 2, a film that gets unfair criticism and is nowhere near as bad as many critics and fans claim. The best word to describe the film is... misunderstood.
Apparently it has gone down in the books that Cars 2 was PIXAR’s first “flop.” I don’t see it that way at all. I don’t think PIXAR has ever had a "flop." They’ve had some more successful and appealing films than Cars 2 for sure, but “flop” does not come near PIXAR’s vocabulary. As far as finances go, Cars 2 was not even close to a flop. Of course, money is not all that makes a movie, which we will get into here shortly.
The most common complaint about Cars 2
One very common complaint is that Cars 2 Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is the main character, and not Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) like the first movie. Sure, some people might say Mater is better in small doses, but why does it matter that the main character changed for this movie? Lightning McQueen was the main character in the first film, so let Mater have a crack at it. I often compare this switch of protagonists to the Monsters, Inc. (2001) films. When you think about it, Sulley (John Goodman) is really the main character in the original film, and his relationship with Boo is a large part of the story. Monsters University (2013) on the other hand, is really more about Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and his dream to become a scarer, and less about Sulley by quite a large margin. No one seemed to have a problem with this, yet with Cars it was a big no-no.
Was the bar too high for Cars 2?
With the near constant if not completely constant critical and financial success of PIXAR's filmography up to Cars 2, it seemed inevitable that the next film would be another masterpiece and Oscar-winner. In one sense, I agree, why expect anything less? But the trailers for this film told us what kind of movie it was going to be. First of all, the last film before Cars 2 was Toy Story 3 (2010), which, being nominated for Best Picture, set the bar pretty high for anything that would come after it. But audiences had to adjust their expectations of PIXAR at least the tiniest bit when going into Cars 2, and I don't think many did. Cars 2 was not intended to be the next Up (2009) or Ratatouille (2007), it was intended to be a car action spy film. I'm not saying that the people at PIXAR did not set out to make a good film, because they did; they just set out to make a different kind of film. If you think about it, it was a pretty bold move to take characters we know and throw them into a different type of action movie world, and for the film it was going for, I think it succeeded in spades. It is supposed to have a different feel to it.
Many say that their first disappointing PIXAR movie was Cars 2, but for me personally it was Brave (2012), because when I saw Cars 2 in the theater, I thought it was a very entertaining, fun, action-packed adventure, and a worthy sequel to the first installment. Watching it again, I still feel that way. That opening shot of super shiny and sleuth Finn McMissile (Sir Michael Caine) stealthily driving up the oil rig platform in the middle of the ocean at night and escaping by turning into an underwater sub, with the snazzy and sophisticated jazzy action musical score by Michael Giacchino in the background, was so dang cool. And it just got better from there, because it was the type of movie I was expecting it to be. It hearkened back to classic Bourne and Bond films, just with the Cars characters in their place.
Director John Lasseter and PIXAR took an enormous risk, and they should be applauded for it, regardless of what you think of the film. 8/10 stars from this reviewer: a hilarious thrill ride with incredible animation and characters, and as always, it deserves more love.