Critical Mass: With 'Cars 2,' the critics' love affair with Pixar hits a rocky patch
Pixar has been around for 25 years now and made 12 feature films, all of which have been met with critical praise bordering on religious ecstasy. But "Cars 2" may have finally broken that streak. Though the film was co-directed by Pixar head honcho John Lasseter, the car-based sequel is getting some of the worst reviews of the animation studio's career.
Times critic Kenneth Turan appears to be in the minority camp with his rave. He says, "With engaging characters, a plot that ensures energy, and such a wealth of auto references ... 'Cars 2' has a smooth, easy way about it."
Let's just hope the staff of Pixar only reads the LAT.
Globe and Mail critic Liam Lacey gave the film two stars out of five and accused the filmmakers of cashing in on crass commerciality -- something Pixar has always managed to seem to float above. He writes, "Apparently fuelled more by prospective toy sales than any intrinsic narrative purpose, 'Cars 2' varooms right under Pixar’s usually high bar. Unlike most Pixar fare, this isn’t a movie you can imagine many adults wanting to see without their children in tow."
Minneapolis Star Tribune critic Colin Covert is even harsher: "Saddled with a hectic story, flat-lining character arcs and action sequences apparently conceived as levels for a video game, 'Cars 2' is all motion and no emotion."
Some critics, like New York Times critic A.O. Scott, find fault in the decision to sideline the star of the first "Cars," Lightning McQueen, and give rundown tow truck Mater the starring role. If the character were voiced by, say, Daniel Day-Lewis, would the reviews be kinder? Who's to say? What we have is Larry the Cable Guy and all the irritation that entails. As Scott writes, "Through it all, he talks and talks and talks, mangling idioms and missing the point in an exaggerated drawl that would make even the cast of 'Hee-Haw' wince. As if to prove that certain groups have escaped the protection of political correctness, the Southern-fried Mater is dumb, excitable and puppy-dog loyal, his idiot-savant automotive expertise grounded in humble, blue-collar simplicity. I doubt anyone will protest much, but Pixar has now found its redneck Jar-Jar Binks. Such a proud moment."
But for some, the Pixar love just runs too deep. Orlando Sentinel critic Roger Moore writes, "Yes, 'Cars 2' is better than 'Cars.' " But his readers beg to differ. One parent responded, "Seriously? I found this sequel to be so complicated for my first and second graders. It’s about alternative fuels, oil reserves, international capers. Isn't that a little heavy for that age group to comprehend?"
But when you've lost noted animation junkie Leonard Maltin, you know there's something wrong. That's exactly what has happened with "Cars 2." Maltin, critic for Indiewire, writes, "I have such high regard for Pixar and its creative team, led by John Lasseter, that it actually hurts to knock one of their movies -- something I've never done before. But then, I've never gotten a headache watching any of their previous films."
Something tells us, after all the reviews are in, Leonard Maltin won't be the only one needing some Advil.
--Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: Finn McMissile, left, Mater and Lightning McQueen hang out in Tokyo in "Cars 2." Credit: Disney / Pixar