Be yourself, even if you are a bumbling, moronic, gas-bag with no manners. This is the lesson of Disney and Pixars’ Cars 2 , which could be have been called Ernest Goes MI6.
This clumsy mash-up of an Ernest movie with a James Bond film was not at all what I was expecting from Pixar. From its overly violent, not to mention physics defying, action sequence opening to its rube humor and its aw-shucks sentiment this travesty disappointed me at every turn. Oscillating between bombastic and borderline incoherent races with little emotional charge to car-fu fight sequences the film only takes breaks from the action to give center stage to Mater, the franchise’s red-neck, lug-nut tow-truck voiced by America’s current king of trailer park humor – Larry the Cable guy.
Set lose up on the world, Mater is the ugliest of Americans. Dumb, obnoxious, and unwilling to control himself, Mater gets by on down-to-earth charm and lots of luck. His mixture of idiocy and earnestness appeals to jingoistic, flag-waving Americans that believe the world must both lower themselves to America’s intellect and raise itself to their perceived notion of greatness. For me, it was simply too much to ensure and when Mater’s best friend encourages Mater to just be himself (i.e. an unapologetic clodhopper) and that the rest of the world will just have to accept Mater for who he is, I wanted to puke on my shoes.
Is this the message Pixar, Disney, Hollywood, and America have for the world? Americans like being moronic jerks with supposedly good intentions, deal with it!
Admittedly, I did not see the first Cars film. Perhaps, had I seen the first film I would have been better prepared for the shock I encountered. I used to think Pixar has some of the best mainstream screen-play writers and gag-men in Hollywood. Then again I haven’t seen the last 3 or 4 Pixar films. Perhaps they have all been going down hill. Cars 2 certainly doesn’t give me reason to go back and watch the films I missed. Instead I need to list 5 random things:
1) Cars sell: They sell far better than E.T. looking robots. However, this whole movie seems designed to not only push merchandise, but to apologize for the commentary on humans found in Wall-E. It’s designed to sell Americans on their identity and to feel good about their faults. Where as Wall-E painted a grim portrait of humans as self-destructive sloths, Cars fills the screen with anthropomorphic surrogates all too genuine, well-natured, and good-hearted. It serves to remind viewers that golly-gee we might have our problems but deep down we are pretty f’n great…oh, and we look sweet too. No need to improve who we are or how we handle ourselves. Just keep truckin’.
2) Without stereotypes films would have nothing to say about other cultures: Mexicans love low-riders. Japan has weird toilets. Italian moms solve everything through big meals. The French are snooty and to not be trusted. British pub patrons are rowdy. Almost always there is a humor behind each stereotype. Yes, this short-hand reduction of culture for the sake of simple joke is nothing new, but for kids this is often their first introduction to other cultures. This is the EPCOTing of the world. Experience the globe in your own backyard.
3) Pixar is not waving the green flag: Underneath all the action and the dumb jokes Cars 2 has a convoluted story about alternative fuels and a group of oil investors looking to besmirch non-petroleum based fuel. The plot and motives do not make a lick of sense. By the time the true villain is revealed and his motives are explain, in a manner equivalent to a ho-hum episode of Scooby-Doo I was utterly confused. Some how Pixar managed to make a film that both argues for alternative fuels and re-affirms the necessity of fossil fuels. At least that is what I think happened. This whole debate of fossil vs. bio fuel gets a few seconds of screen-time and there is no real debate. It would truly be remarkable if one of the cars in this film had a moment of existential crisis, questioning just what purpose it serves to drive in circles, burning resources, and polluting the environment. I know that is a lot to ask of a kid’s movie and even more to ask of the NASCAR fans this film seems to target.
4) Owen Wilson isn’t a bad actor: He’s not an actor at all. He’s Owen Wilson and no matter what role he is in he is awful. Even as a CGI car I just want to cram my fingers in my ears until I feel grey matter and completely block out his voice.
5) What if Jerry Lewis had directed this film: What if he, as his Kid persona had played the part of Mater instead of Larry the Cable Guy? I might have liked this film. I might have loved it, because I am sure Jerry Lewis could have figured out how to pull of the naivete of Mater with a lot more pathos. Sadly, what we get instead is a love letter to the American lowest-common denominator.