Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Cars 2

Directed by: John Lasseter
Brad Lewis

Produced by: Denise Ream

Screenplay by: Ben Queen

Story by: John Lasseter
Brad Lewis
Dan Fogelman

Starring: Larry The Cable Guy
Owen Wilson
Michael Caine
Emily Mortimer
Jason Isaacs (hello!)
Thomas Kretschmann
Eddie Izzard
John Turturro
Bonnie Hunt

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography by: Jeremy Lasky
Sharon Calahan

Editing by: Peter Schaffer

Studio: Pixar

Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures

Release date(s): June 18, 2011 (United States/Hollywood, California Premiere)
July 22, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 106 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $200 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $501, 351, 457

Hey there gang, hope you're all doing well. I must say that for some reason despite listening to the rather morose entrance music of Sting (1997-Crow era), I am in a rather buoyant mood and looking forward to getting down to this review. On other notes, I have still been watching some other films. As mentioned, a review for Final Destination 5 (in 3D) will be coming up, as I saw it on Monday, and I'm going to see The Skin I Live In tomorrow, and I Saw The Devil will be reviewed in the next few weeks. Also, I watched both A Bittersweet Life by Kim Ji-woon and Alexandre Aja's nasty horror Switchblade Romance recently, and I recommend both to be watched. Finally, on Monday I bought a copy of Shutter Island, so as promised (at what must be a year and a half ago), I will do review for 'Jack's complete lack of surprise' on this movie. Pinky swear! It's not going to be a running joke anymore!

Rightio, as you can see (there is a freaking title and poster after all, I'm just filling space), the film for review here is Cars 2. For those of you who don't follow the blog, I am a massive fan of Pixar, from the release of the original Toy Story, which I saw in the cinema in 1995, to Wall-E, Pixar's greatest film at it's time of release and my best science-fiction film of 2008, Up, a great film and 2009's best action-adventure film and the studio's artistic zenith, Toy Story 3, my favourite film of 2010 and perhaps the best film I have seen since I began my career as a film critic. Excuse the Jamesian sentence, but it gets the point across. Pixar are arguably the best and most artistically consistent studio in the world and they have succeeded in bringing more joy to me, both as a film critic and a pure audience member, than any other studio working. Following on from the success of Toy Story 3, Pixar have decided to make a sequel to another of their previous works, Cars, a sorely underrated flick that is one of their most entertaining and funny films. This time round, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returns to Radiator Springs, reuniting with Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) and Sally (Bonnie Hunt), planning to take a sabbatical from his Four-Time Piston Cup winning career. However, former oil tycoon turned green power advocate Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) announces a World Grand Prix, to which McQueen initially refuses his invitation, but due to Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), a Formula racer who bragged his superiority to McQueen and an intervention by Mater, McQueen joins the World Grand Prix.

To start with the good, as is expected with Pixar, the animation is superb. After Toy Story 3, it seems that with Cars 2, Pixar have really decided to up the ante and fire out on gas canisters. There is a far greater scale in this film than perhaps any other Pixar film, travelling to numerous parts of the globe, and the animation studio do a nothing short of impressive job of keeping up with the pace. Also, the colour palette that they use is wide and varied, giving it a certain 'look' that distinguishes itself from other animated films. Much of the strength of this animation is captured and kept in place by some terrific editing by Stephen Schaffer. Without his adapt hands in the editing suite, the chop-chop nature of Cars 2 could have been a whole heck of a lot messier, and believe me that is saying something. At least you can see what is going on, because you'd need to with the amount of stuff going on. Nevertheless, this is some really fine work by Schaffer, and elevates Cars 2 to a certain degree.

This is the part where I address my general disbelief and ask (Pixar and John Lasseter specifically) "what the hell happened?" Why? Because Cars 2 is an absolute mess of a film. Yes, Pixar have actually made a dud. For years, I have been questioning every new release by Pixar as the dud that the studio has been waiting for, after all, they can't make great movies forever, right? They almost had me fooled after Toy Story 3, but what makes it so much more shocking is that Cars 2 is not just an ok film, it is a really bad film. The main problem here, the gaping knife wound in what should have been a good film is the terrible screenplay. Ben Queen is a writer whose work I have no context to judge against, and I also wonder how much content Lasseter contributed here, but this is without a doubt one of the biggest messes of a screenplay I have seen in a long time. At least with something like Swinging With The Finkels and Zookeeper they are consistently bad. Here, we start off well, and the first half-hour, aside from the introduction, works very well. The movie starts on a rather irritating note. As ever with Pixar, we begin with a short, this time Hawaiian Vacation, a 'Toy Story toon.' I didn't watch it as I was too busy talking with the projectionist to try and fix the film, but unfortunately it was not the best of prints, however, I think that to start off what could be the next big Pixar franchise with your previous franchise which you definitively ended last year is a bad note. The words 'let it be' come to mind, but the Toy Story toon casts an unnecessary shadow over Cars 2. Furthermore, as an alternative title, Cars 2 Many Plots is the first thing I can think of. After the short, the film actually has a decent first half-hour, but unfortunately after Mater ends up in the bathroom, the story goes off the rails. Last time I checked, Lightning McQueen was Cars' main character right? Well, the screenplay, after establishing a story with McQueen decide to follow Mater across the world with a group of English secret agents voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer. It is over half-an-hour I'd reckon before we end up back in the shoes of McQueen, and then after establishing a sort of pattern, by the time they arrive in England, chops-and-changes quicker than our Northern Ireland weather, which has been alternating between cloud, rain and sun about three or four times over today alone! It is a real struggle to keep up with so many incidental things happening alongside the main plot or rather plots. I ended up having a genuine headache trying to follow the film. The voice cast too has a number of problems. Larry The Cable Guy's role as Mater in the original was humorous and endearing, but with a significantly larger amount of screen time, Mater ends up becoming 'Grater,' this squeaking voice that sounds like it's going to leave me with permanent tinnitus being a huge thorn in my side. Also, this is perhaps the only time I can say I have ever disliked Michael Caine's presence in the film, his vocal acting indulging in his quintessential Englishness on levels like never before, though I imagine this is as much the screenplay's fault as his 'efforts.' These two left me nearly begging for Owen Wilson, a guy who I have not been the biggest fan of in the past (note: see my reviews of Marley And Me and Marmaduke). Finally, Michael Giacchino's score here, after my praise of his work in Super 8, is poor, throwing out there all the musical cliches of the world, flagging up to me that, like Alexandre Desplat, he is as likely to churn out crap as he is quality material.

I'm near enough still in disbelief, even after having delivered that 'little' soliloquy that Pixar could do something as bad as this. Despite having some of Pixar's best animation ever and some fine editing from Michael Schaffer to it's credit, Cars 2 is an absolute mess of a film with a terrible screenplay that has too many plots and incidental things going on to incite interest in the work, and the primary voice cast, aside from Owen Wilson and John Turturro, are on a mediocre level. This is hardly the fall of the Roman empire, but the Mater-bomb that has been catapulted at Pixar's walls leaves a big gaping hole. The shadow of the colossi Woody and Buzz is indeed larger than once thought.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Disappointed

P.S. Dear Pixar, if you wanted to make a spy film, why not have that be the short at the start of Cars 2, set in the Cars universe, so we can get down to the real matters at hand aka Lightning McQueen?

Your Biggest Fan

The Thin White Dude

P.P.S. Toy Story? Let it be!

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