When I first heard that Pixar was planning a sequel to "Cars," it left me a bit perplexed. "Cars" was fun, but hardly a landmark in storytelling on a par with either the "Toy Story" franchise or the yet-unsequelled (is that even a word?) "Finding Nemo."
And, coming away from the opening night of "Cars 2" at a local theater, I walked away feeling much the same. Make no mistake, "Cars 2" is a fun two hours of Pixar charm and energy, but it didn't leave me wanting more, nor did it leave me in awe of Pixar's animated magic (as do most of their adventures do). It did leave me convinced that my decision to drive to a different theater so as *not* to spend the extra 40% ticket price for the 3D version was absolutely the correct one. Will the 3D idiocy ever fade?
First, this was the first Pixar adventure where I found the animated backgrounds inconsistent. Only in the final third of the film did I find myself wondering if the landscapes through which Tow Mater, Finn McMissle and his crew drive were challenging the edge of photorealism; others, at times, looked flat and unrefined. More generally, the print used at our theater seemed muddy, and the projection in need of tweaking. Even my 13-year-old daughter made a similar observation.
Beyond the technical observations, "Cars 2" represents a decided departure for John Lasseter and the Pixar team. Departing from the storytelling style that has, with amazing consistency, managed to grace each Pixar feature with the perfect balance of sentimentality and introspection, "Cars 2" shoves Pixar squarely into the action-adventure genre. Where so many of Pixar's adventures are deliberately paced, "Cars 2" is a fast-moving, at times even frantic story of international intrigue and corruption. So fast is the pacing that the subtleties of the pleasantly complex "whodunit" story will almost certainly be lost on the younger viewers in the average "Cars 2" audience.
As if the pacing change weren't reason enough to raise an eyebrow, Pixar with "Cars 2" has clearly shifted the focus of the "Cars" franchise away from the Lightning McQueen character to that of his buddy Tow Mater. Exactly how this happens would be too much spoiler here, but anyone whose seen "Cars 2" would surely agree.
While I enjoyed "Cars 2," I must admit the most enjoyable parts were the fleeting moments spent back in "Radiator Springs," where Lightning McQueen "grew up," meeting a set of rich "car"acters along the way. Part of me can't help but wonder if others might not feel the same way.