(John Lasseter, Brad Lewis, 2011)
We expect so much of Pixar. This is a company which primarily makes films for children, yet, such has been the success and popularity of those films, so transcendent have a handful been, telling tales which work equally well for adults, with great sophistication, wit and beauty, that we expect miracles with each and every release. We expect dazzling storytelling in the service of tales full of drama yet laced with comedy, we expect strong, simple characterisation with an underlying resonance and complexity, we expect an effortless visual splendour and a sort of mythic weight to the narrative and light, piercing cultural references and a warmth of sensibility, and massive, original action sequences, and movie stars giving voice performances without distracting us, and an emotional charge. We expect a lot of Pixar, in other words.
Cars was probably the least critically successful of the companies previous films. A breezy, old-fashioned Doc Hollywood retread, it is a nice little film. But those expectations mean that was never going to be enough. So Cars 2, the most outright Kid-friendly of all Pixars films, and a bright, poppy, thematically thin mix of spy farce and race movie, was always bound to take some critical flak.
It makes Mater, the major source of comic relief in the first film, the main character. He is a broad creation and the film takes its lead from him, with many fish-out-of-water gags as he cuts a swathe through Japan, Italy and England, mistaken for a US Secret Agent throughout and fluking his way through a couple of extended action set-pieces along the way. Some of the spy pastiche material - with Michael Caine slightly miscast as the legendary Britih Spy Fin McMasters - recalls the previous Pixar masterpiece The Incredibles, but here the target audience is firmly six years old, and Cars 2 does an impressive, whole-hearted job in wooing that audience, with lots of slapstick and sight gags, and a brighter, more simplified storytelling approach than ever before. Many of those expectations are fulfilled, sure, but Cars 2 simply isn't interested in being a "typical" Pixar film. It just wants to be fun for a five year old.