Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Cars 2: Racing Beyond the Cynicism

One could almost imagine the metaphorical arm-twisting that occurred between Disney CEO Robert Iger and Pixar chief John Lasseter, that ultimately resulted in the making of Cars 2.  Beyond the Toy Story films, Pixar has always been generally against sequel-driven inspirations (unlike say, Dreamworks), but Iger, a stalwart believer in franchising, apparently convinced John and company otherwise. Thus Cars 2 arrived in theaters this past summer.  It certainly succeeded commercially but, unusual for Pixar, it was savaged by mainstream critics and not entirely beloved by audiences.  I must with some shame admit that I was not wholly immune to the cynicism that surrounded Cars 2; I skipped it at the multiplex, preferring to wait for its home entertainment release, which occurs this week.

It is certainly difficult to praise the film on any level without appearing to be an Iger/Lasseter apologist.  The film was, after all, created to support a still incredibly lucrative billion dollar toy business, a pedigree that is difficult at best to overlook.  But one cannot also overlook high standards of Pixar craftsmanship and creative energies, and Cars 2 is distinctly infused with both.  Strip away all of the movie's aforementioned external baggage and what is left?  A fun couple of hours, beautifully rendered and well realized, and certainly entertaining. 

Pixar often takes its cues from retro-based themes and in Cars 2 it milks 1960s spy films for inspiration.  Mater takes center stage but his presence is thankfully and necessarily diffused by new characters Finn McMissle and Holley Shiftwell, automobile incarnations of super spies in the James Bond mold.  Lightning McQueen is relegated to a third string supporting player while the rest of the Radiator Springs gang fades even further into the background.  The action is fast and furious; the humor, while never subtle is rarely overdone.  The visuals are spectacular and often eye-popping.  Pixar eye candy remains unmatched in contemporary CG animation.  While it does not break any new ground, neither does it disappoint to the degree many have suggested.  It appears that many critics and viewers are not willing to extend Pixar the same benefit of the doubt they typically show to non-Pixar franchises such as Shrek, Ice Age and Kung Fu Panda.

In keeping with recent Disney DVD packaging/marketing misfires, the non-3D Blu-ray set is a bare bones affair, devoid of extras beyond the Toy Story short Hawaiian Vacation, a Mater's Tall Tale entry, and a director's commentary.  The Mater short, Air Mater, is a not-so subtle introduction to the upcoming direct-to-DVD spinoff Planes, produced by Disney Toon Studios.