Scrapheap chal­lenge

A Pixar cash bonanza prompted and the re­sults are not amus­ing, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

HARD­CORE PIXAR fans were rightly be­wil­dered when news emerged that ev­ery­body’s favourite an­i­ma­tion stu­dio was toil­ing on a se­quel to Cars.

The 2006 film, Pixar’s only crit­i­cal dud, at­tempted to marry crudely retro an­thro­po­mor­phic au­to­mo­biles to sump­tu­ous hy­per-re­al­is­tic back­grounds; the ef­fect was unin­spir­ing, jar­ring and Ameri­cen­tric. The plot, too, preached about slow­ing down to smell the roses, a neo-Lud­dite man­i­festo that seemed en­tirely at odds with gas-guz­zling heroes and the film’s tar­get de­mo­graphic.

So why have we been sad­dled with an unin­spir­ing, jar­ring and

irish­times.com/cul­ture

Ameri­cen­tric se­quel? Un­hap­pily, there’s no mar­ket for 78-year-old ac­tion fig­ures and their fly­ing houses. But kids will al­ways love say­ing “vroom” and run­ning any­thing with wheels across car­peted ter­rain.

Thus Cars 2, a point­less, mostly mer­it­less thing, seems to ex­ist as a show­case for digi­tised scenery – look here, it’s a per­fect fac­sim­ile of Lon­don in the dis­tance – and as lever­age for lunch­box sales. Some­body in the House of the Hop­ping Desk Lamp has de­cided that the gazil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of mer­chan­dise gen­er­ated by the orig­i­nal film is not to be sniffed at: and to hell with the heart-warm­ing nar­ra­tive strengths that have pre­vi­ously de­fined the an­i­ma­tion stu­dio’s out­put.

As any proud owner of Hulk hands might tell you, good toys and good fran­chise prospects do not nec­es­sar­ily make for good movies. Light­ning McQueen and chums may shift du­vet cov­ers but box of­fice fig­ures re­veal that fam­ily au­di­ences are just not buy­ing the Cars uni­verse; in­deed, it’s Pixar’s least suc­cess­ful the­atri­cal re­lease to date.

The sec­ond in­stal­ment, more­over, doesn’t make any more sense than the last one. What do the cars need all those houses for? How come some cars are sen­tient while dump trucks and trac­tors are dumb beasts? What does McQueen ac­tu­ally do with his drippy girl­friend when they’re alone? We’re quite sure, as well, that an au­to­mo­bile’s eyes are sup­posed to be its head­lights, not its win­dow-screen. And as for cast­ing Michael Caine as a su­per­spy Aston Martin: well, ev­ery­body knows Michael Caine is a Mini.

Worse still, Cars 2 takes the least ap­peal­ing, most ob­nox­ious char­ac­ter from the first film – Mater the Tow-Truck, the fran­chise’s an­swer to Scrappy Doo – and gives him cen­tre stage. Mater, the wildly un­pop­u­lar, spit­ting, low-fa­lutin’, sub­nor­mal car­i­ca­ture of poor, dumb white trash is about as tol­er­a­ble in the lead role as you’d ex­pect. Not since Smokey and the Ban­dit 3 at­tempted to gyp us with Jerry Reed in lieu of Burt Reynolds has a se­quel been so un­kind to its au­di­ence.

This is typ­i­cal of the cyn­i­cal, Cars 2. The tech specs and 3D are im­pres­sive but some­how it doesn’t feel like a Pixar film; it feels in­stead like one of the cruder, potty-minded ear­lier DreamWorks an­i­ma­tions. Just as Shark Tale re­lied en­tirely on stunt cast­ing and watch­ing fish act like saucy peo­ple – re­mem­ber the shark’s Catholic Mafioso fu­neral? – Mater’s wit ex­tends to mak­ing analo­gies be­tween oil leaks and bod­ily func­tions. The screen­play’s at­tempts at hu­mour are weaker still; in Lon­don we find Big Bent­ley, The In­cred­i­mo­biles plays at lo­cal cin­e­mas.

There is some class of plot, though it’s light years from the charm­ing feats of sto­ry­telling found in Pixar’s most re­cent pic­tures Toy Story 3, Up and Wall-E. A slap­dash Scary Movie-in­spired es­pi­onage par­ody sees the dreaded Mater team up with Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives Finn McMis­sile (Caine) and Hol­ley Shiftwell (Emily Mor­timer) in an at­tempt to un­cover the evil mas­ter­mind be­hind a se­ries of ex­plo­sions on the rac­ing track.

Could it be that Sir Miles Ax­el­rod (Iz­zard) has placed too much faith in his com­pany’s new al­ter­na­tive fuel? Or is a con­spir­acy of “lemon” cars at­tempt­ing to grab the world’s re­main­ing oil re­serves? The re­sults are hy­per­ki­netic and loud enough to oc­ca­sion­ally dis­tract some ADHD hotrod from smear­ing gum on the seat in front. But only oc­ca­sion­ally. Lemon in­deed.

Flamin’ hell: he’d drive through fire to flog lunch­boxes

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