Seriously? Having wrapped up the Toy Story trilogy in grand style, Cars is the movie Pixar just had to sequelize next? I know it was Lasseter’s pet project and all, but to stake his studio’s rep, its winning streak and our hard-won faith on a follow-up to the movie widely and justifiably considered the black sheep of the canon… well, you couldn’t accuse him of playing safe, anyway.
But you’d think he’d come prepared. Okay, so Cars 2 isn’t exactly a retread; where that one saw Owen Wilson’s egocentric racer Lightning McQueen redeemed by folksy small-town values, this one puts him on the backburner to drag buck-“toothed” hayseed buddy Mater (voiced by someone calling himself “Larry the Cable Guy”, apparently) into a mistaken-identity spy comedy.
What this doesn’t change is a fictional world that’s just been conceptually ill-conceived from the get-go. To wit: when referring to a racer and his hick buddy, we’re not talking about a racing-car driver and a slow-witted guy in dungarees. We’re talking an actual racing car and a tow-truck. They talk. They feel. When you cut them, they… leak motor oil. Geddit? They exist in a human-free world of anthropomorphized motor vehicles. That’s the hook. That’s the gag. And the Pixar of Wall-E (their crowning jewel) could perhaps have done something audacious, unprecedented, even Ballard-worthy with it.
As it is, we get stuck with formula storylines and toilet jokes. Which we’d expect from a poor imitation like Robots or Shark Tale, but coming from the House of Lightyear, this isn’t nearly good enough.
For its part, Arrietty risks dismissal as minor Studio Ghibli fare just for not being one of Miyazaki’s, but this animated take on The Borrowers has wonder to spare; just look at how a nighttime kitchen, seen and heard from the vantage point of the little people who live under the floorboards, becomes a daunting exploratory frontier. Speaking as a confirmed non-fan of twee English-country-garden fairytales, this sense of a new perspective on the familiar was very much the attraction throughout.