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Buena Vista / 106 Minutes / 2011 / Rated G / Street Date: November 1, 2011
There was a fascinating story in The New York Times this week in which John Lasseter almost kinda sorta tries to make the case for Cars 2. The director - and, more notably, the company he represents (Pixar) - had never really encountered a critical bashing like they did with this NASCAR-sentimented sequel, and in the NY Times piece, he repeatedly refers to Cars 2 as a 'great movie' while discounting the notion that he's trying to win over the critics who poo-pooed the film with its Blu-ray and DVD release.
The proof is in the pudding, I guess: Cars 2 has proven to be a smash hit, earning more than a half-billion dollars internationally (before the first Blu-ray has even been released!), so whether or not the movie wins the Best Animated Oscar in 2012 is almost incidental the way Disney as a corporation is concerned. What's more notable about Cars 2 is that it proves that even the once-mighty Pixar is capable of releasing sub-par material.
Even writers who enjoyed the film upon its release this summer - Roger Ebert was an early defender, stating that Cars 2 "retroactively justifies its predecessor" - would never put it on the same level as Toy Story or Wall-E (and imagine how quickly a Cars 2/Finding Nemo matchup would be decided). This is an important, if perhaps humbling lesson for Pixar: Even in the land of studio animated fare, nobody's perfect.
The fact remains that Cars 2 is a hit, and will be looked back upon as a big one. Kung Fu Panda 2 made more money overall (though Cars 2 performed better domestically), but even as second-tier Pixar output, Cars 2 is a completely capable movie, one that will be absolutely diverting to Blu-ray consumers who didn't bother to make it out to see the movie in cinemas.
Though there is a uniquely political bent to the film that might just keep a lid on its potential for uniform and widespread appeal. The movie's storyline features Mater and Lightning McQueen from last time (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy and Owen Wilson, respectively), but their competition with the odious Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann) at the Grand Prix at the center of the movie might be a firebrand to some audiences.
See, a dude named Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) has designed a new biofuel that stands to change the racing world as we know it, and Professor Z and his many evil cronies will stop at nothing to keep standard-grade oil and crude as the mother's milk of the industry. With political rhetoric at such a fever-pitch in American culture, one wonders if this kind of plot basis might be too on-the-nose for its own good.
I guess we'll have to wait for next week's sales chart - no, how about next month's sales chart (the only way to test if it'll have any legs) - and see....