|With my excited 4-year-old, ready for Cars 2|
What happened? I'll offer some thoughts later, but first let's get to Cars 2.
Cars 2 is a fun, action-packed spy movie combined with some comedy, mostly centered around Mater, the simple tow truck from the first movie. Technically speaking, Cars 2 is remarkable. The scenery and details are lovingly crafted. The music, sound effects, and most of the voice acting are all top-notch. Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen) did seem a little bored at times, but Michael Caine is perfect as British spy Finn McMissile.
The story itself is engaging, though probably too complex for most young children. But you know what? Most young children won't care. What they want to see are colorful cars racing across the screen and they'll get plenty of that. Some of the biggest laughs from the audience, by the way, were directed at Mater and his antics. Some critics have pointed to Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, as a weakness of Cars 2, claiming that the character just doesn't have the draw to carry a feature film. I beg to differ. As I said, kids in the theater I attended thought Mater hilarious.
Is Cars 2 one of Pixar's best movies? No. Is it a bad movie? No. It certainly doesn't deserve an average rating in the 30 percent range from critics. So why the negative reviews? First, Cars did not garner stellar reviews from critics (Rotten Tomatoes lists it at a 74 percent average rating from critics). Given that Cars is fairly low on the Pixar scale in reference to critical reception of it, I suspect some critics just wanted to smack Cars 2 down no matter what.
Second, Cars 2 is not what many critics expected. They questioned why Pixar would return to what they considered a mediocre or average world at best. Some even suggested that Pixar decided to crank out another Cars film simply to push more Cars-related merchandise on kids. But Cars 2 is unexpected in other ways. It's a spy movie and, consequently, it doesn't lend itself well to the themes of the original Cars. I suspect some critics were taken aback by this genre turn.
Third, everyone is aware that Pixar Animation Studios has had an unbroken string of unprecedented success. Critics and audience members have come to expect the highest quality in technical brilliance and storytelling. Moreover, Pixar's two most recent films (Up and Toy Story 3) packed strong, emotionally-charged storylines that at times brought many audience members to tears. Other Pixar movies have likewise had strong emotional themes and moments, such as Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. What I'm suggesting is that critics and audiences have come to expect strong emotional elements in Pixar movies. But in my assessment Cars 2 lacks such moments.
This, however, doesn't make Cars 2 a bad film, just different--more lighthearted than other Pixar movies. We can't and shouldn't expect every single Pixar movie to go right to our hearts. Mozart composed the powerful and moving Requiem Mass in D minor, but also the lighthearted Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ("A Little Night Music"). The same composer crafted different styles of music to fit different forms and purposes. Pixar is more than entitled to explore more lighthearted fare, as well as darker themes as well, which I hope to see in next year's Brave.
What about the messages in Cars 2? They, too, are fairly simple on one level and, if considered more fully, deeper on another. Bad guys must be stopped. Friendship is important. We need to learn to forgive others. Let the positive elements of your identity strengthen you. The difficulties in life ("dents") that cause us harm are not defects, but elements of our character that can empower us.
Cars 2 is an enjoyable ride and an especially entertaining movie for young children. I saw the film with my wife and three of my children, ages 4, 9, and 12, and all my kids had a great time. When asked about his favorite part of the movie, my 4-year-old said, "Lightning McQueen!" (the other two really liked Finn McMissile).
I wonder whether or not the critics giving Cars 2 such low ratings have really stopped to consider how children react to the movie rather than how a typical critic dissects a film. Not that children are the barometer for what is a good or bad movie, but kids are smart enough to know a really bad and boring movie from a good one. Cars 2 is not a 33 percent-rating failure by any means.
In Pixar's film Ratatouille, food critic Anton Ego states, "In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."
Pixar offers up their work--their art--to the world. They take risks in creating anything at all, especially given their past success. What this means is that one seeming misstep or film that may not meet expectations is suddenly pounced on. But, in the end, Pixar has yet again created a work of art in Cars 2, whether it is well-received or not. And for that they deserve credit.
My children had a great time watching Cars 2, which hardly qualifies it as a flop or a clunker. Is it one of my favorite Pixar movies? No. Is it one I'll turn to now and then for some fun, lighthearted comedy and action? Yes. Not every Pixar film needs to reach the dramatic heights of Mozart's Requiem Mass in D minor. Now and then there's always room for a little night music.