...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Despite the extensive hype, further growth in computerized animation was the most laudable result of the first Cars movie. That film’s simplistic plot eked out a positive message in the end, but featured much content to concern parents along the way. The big question leading up to Cars 2, was if the sequel would follow the pattern of the original or be an improvement. The answer? Yes and no.
With stunning animation, the Cars 2 plot is more complex, but loosely constructed, resulting in a convoluted plot that is alternately exciting and downright boring. While the first film’s uplifting messages on friendship and acceptance are here repeated, Cars 2 is another movie that requires more parental guidance, to be sure kids absorb the good and not the bad, than the G rating suggests.
Cars 2 gets off to a racing start with one of the most exciting sequences in the film, as we meet a new character who’s more serious than the fun-loving, talking vehicles audiences are accustomed to. This one is a spy named Finn McMissile, engaged in a dangerous mission to uncover a villainous plot by no-good autos. This opening sets a tone that is a far cry from the previous Cars movie, introducing higher stakes and thrills, but also death and violence.
Unprepared for your kid to encounter cars getting crushed and shot at? Cars 2 gives time to gather a game plan for addressing those issues, as the story whisks us away to the contrasting quiet of Radiator Springs. At this town featured in the first film, things are still peaceful and quaint—exactly as it was when Cars ended. The thrust of the Cars 2 plot is that the characters from Radiator Springs, including Cars hero Lightning McQueen and, especially, his best friend Mater will become entangled in the espionage world of Finn McMissile.
The filmmakers are apparently in no rush to intertwine those stories, however, as the film takes a hiatus from the more interesting plot established in the opening to bring viewers up to date on all the Cars characters. As parents experience whiplash from this stop and go storyline, some kids might enjoy seeing their favorite characters from the first movie do nothing of interest, while other youngsters start asking if the movie’s almost done.
This story is really about Mater, but that focus doesn’t become clear until unusually late in the film, after a good deal of seemingly aimless meandering. One can see how the filmmakers might have been inclined to wander, if only to make the repetition of this story more interesting for themselves. True, the story seems promisingly original, with the addition of secret agents, car chases, and life-threatening dangers. Yet the filmmakers are evidently determined to keep the movie the same in the end, ultimately focusing on the same themes of true friendship and acceptance that were at the center of Cars, and forcing the less interesting characters and plot onto center stage.
Cars 2 does eventually rev up to an exciting pace, but potential boredom until then is not the biggest problem. This sequel avoids some of the attitude and most of the innuendo encouraged in the first film, yet repeats other negative content. One might think that a movie about cars couldn’t possibly have any bathroom humor—after all, they aren’t human, right? Where there’s Hollywood, there’s a way. In Cars 2, the filmmakers even create an automobile bathroom (divided into “men’s” and “women’s”) to allow for even more inappropriate jokes.
Along with this crudeness, there are several scenes where drinking the anthropomorphic equivalent of alcohol is encouraged. Goofy irresponsibility for pleasure, a Mater hallmark, is also present, as it was in Cars, but to a lesser extent. Mater offers another iffy example with his language, which is peppered with “Dad-gum” and “gee”—not technically obscenities or profanities, but getting close.
McQueen isn’t much better, as his behavior leads one to wonder how much of value he really learned from his experience in the original movie. He is kinder and a bit less arrogant this time around, but he spends his life and talents on a racing circuit for no apparent good cause or purpose. In fact, this story reveals that his primary reason for competing is personal pride. This shallow purpose for McQueen’s life naturally begets an equally one-dimensional, pointless subplot built around McQueen’s desire to beat a rival racing car that frequently insults him. Perhaps because of his popularity in Cars, the filmmakers are nevertheless determined to keep McQueen involved, resulting in too much time spent on McQueen’s story in what feels like dull breaks from the real action.
The central story, while it features more compelling, high-stakes interest also unfortunately brings with it a whole new level of potentially problematic content for children. Our heroes, as well as the bad guys, burn bullets faster than fuel as they chase and attack each other. [SPOILER WARNING] In addition, viewers see a crushed block of parts that was a secret agent who was shown in danger in the film’s opening moments.
[SPOILER WARNING] Most disturbing, and surprising to find in a light-hearted kids flick, is a scene that shows another agent experiencing pain while he is tortured for information. This sequence ends with an increase in the torture mechanism that leads to more pain and then death for the agent (the murder is off-screen). Violent death, then, is a real possibility for the characters in Cars 2, and such a death is a common threat and actual experience throughout the film.
Despite leaning toward the darker side, a positive lesson does emerge in the end, as viewers are shown that true friendship means valuing others and not looking down on them because they may be different or less talented than some. Yet even this message is not as redemptive for Cars 2 as it could be.
[SPOILER WARNING] Mater is the illustrative point for the lesson of acceptance in friendship, as McQueen ostracizes the tow truck because of his socially embarrassing behavior. While it’s true that McQueen shouldn’t reject his friend as he does, some of Mater’s behavior that is supposedly part of his personality that others unkindly shun, is actually rudeness, which is legitimately unacceptable in polite society. The challenge here, then, is to separate the good heart of this message from its Cars 2 application to inconsiderate and crude behavior that kids shouldn’t think is appropriate.
Yes, children can learn a good lesson from Cars 2 and have a fun time doing it. But there are safer ways to teach your kids the same message. If your child is going to watch Cars 2, just be sure you’re along for the ride, ready to point out the potholes and other hazards to avoid on the way to the finish line.
Check out these movies instead:
In the Land of Odds (Auto-B-Good Series, Rising Star Studios, 2009)
Fuel for the Finish (Auto-B-Good, Rising Star Studios, 2009)
Shifting to High Gear (Auto-B-Good, Rising Star Studios, 2007)