Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Cars 2

Rolling along on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  Watching movies and blogging about them.  It's what I do.  This week, finishing what I started last week with Cars 2.  This is in my notes at July 29, 2017.

Cars 2 was the first Pixar film where I looked at all the trailers and TV spots and said, "Pass."  If Cars was the first one that felt phoned in, Cars 2 was the first one that felt like a cash grab.  Still bought it on Blu-Ray, though, because I have every other Pixar film and couldn't have a gap in my collection. 

A lot of people were stunned when it was announced that Cars was getting a sequel, but when you look at the business side of show business, Cars is Pixar's biggest hit.  Out of every Pixar franchise, Cars is the one that's sold the most merchandise.  As one critic pointed out, every little boy goes through a phase where he's all about Hot Wheels cars, and Cars slides into that demographic quite nicely. 

So, what to do for a Cars sequel?  Well, between Cars and Cars 2, Pixar kept the franchise alive with a series of short films called Cars Toons:  Mater's Tall Tales, that aired on the Disney Channel.  In them, Mater the Tow Truck (as played by Larry the Cable Guy), spins a tall tale about some grand adventure he's been on, and at the climax he turns to Lightening McQueen and says, "You were there, too," and suddenly, the whole thing becomes real, and McQueen is dragged along for the ride.  And kids loved them. 

So, rather than more racing action, because it's a film about race cars, we got a feature length Mater's Tall Tales, with this time, Mater telling the tale of how he was a spy. 

If you ever wanted an animated Larry the Cable Guy film, here we are. 

In a way, I see Cars 2 as being the legacy of Circle 7 Animation.  See, back in 2006, when Cars hit theatres, Pixar and Disney were at loggerheads.  Pixar was still a separate company at that time, and their contract to produce animated films for Disney was nearing expiration.  Contract talks had broken down, and Pixar was starting to look for a new home.  As a "screw you" to Pixar, and since their original deal gave Disney the sequel rights to the films Pixar produced for them, Disney announced the formation of Circle 7 Animation, a new animation studio dedicated to pumping out Pixar sequels. 

Well, the whole dispute ended with Disney remembering they have more money than God and just buying Pixar.  As part of the deal, Pixar boss John Lasseter became the boss of Disney animation, and one of the first things he did was shut down Circle 7.  But something funny happened.  As Lasseter looked over what Circle 7 was working on, he was surprised that they were making a genuine effort to make these sequels worthy of the original.  Thus, a lot of Circle 7's projects -- Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc 2, Finding Nemo 2 and Cars 2 -- have come to pass.

I have no doubt, though, that if Pixar and Disney weren't able to hash things out, the majority of Circle 7's output would have been as cash-grabby as Cars 2

Our plot, Lightening McQueen is done for the season, and Mater is looking forward to a  fun-filled off-season of hanging out with his best buddy McQueen.  Meanwhile, oil magnate Miles Axelrod has developed an all-new organic alternative fuel called Alinol.  To promote Alinol, he has created a race called the World Grand Prix:  three races in three cities around the world, using the best racers from every field of racing.  McQueen's originally reluctant to participate -- he, too, is looking forward to a fun-filled off-season with his best buddy -- but when the great Italian racer, an F1 named Francesco Bernouli calls McQueen a coward on TV for not participating, and Mater calls in to defend McQueen's honour, McQueen picks up the gauntlet that's been thrown down, and invites Mater along on this global journey. 

First stop, and the first race:  Tokyo.  Turns out, there's doin's a transpirin', and there's a shadowy forces out to sabotage the race.  Two British secret agents -- Finn McMissel and Holly Shiftwell -- and investigating, and thanks to one of those mix-ups that only happens in movies, mistake Mater for their American contact who's also investigating.  Of course, Mater in Tokyo kind of embarrasses McQuenn -- because, it's Larry the Cable Guy doing a bunch of lame cultural misunderstanding gags with the Japanese -- and then when he starts telling wild tales of meeting spies, McQueen and Mater have a big fight, and Mater decides to go home to Radiator Springs. 

But, at the airport, Mater is whisked away by McMissel and Shiftwell, and thus we have Malarry the Cable Truck stumbling his way through spy adventures and cultural misunderstandings in other lands, all while trying to save his buddy McQueen from the shadows. 

As I said before, in Cars, Mater is OK.  He's amazing in Cars 3, where he's relegated to a glorified cameo.  But to try and build an entire feature film around him?  No.  Comedic sidekicks rarely make great lead characters.  Maybe if they made Mater the sidekick to McMissel, because McMissel finds Mater's savant like knowledge of engines to be an asset in disclosing the mastermind's identity, it would have worked.  But no.  Instead, Mater is our hero, being pushed into action by McMissel. 

It all kind of reminds me of that gag from a Simpsons episode.  It's the one where Homer gets banned from Moe's, so Homer goes looking for a new bar to hang out in.  Eventually, he dons an old pilot's uniform and starts hanging out in the pilots' lounge at the airport.  One day, an airline boss comes in, saying they need a pilot.  The boss grabs Homer, and Homer immediately comes clean, saying he's not a pilot, just dressed like one to drink in the lounge.  The boss chuckles and says, "You flyboys crack me up."  CUT TO, the boss dragging Homer into the cockpit of a plane, Homer once again protests, "I KEEP TELLING YOU!  I'M NOT A PILOT!"  And the boss responds with, "AND I KEEP TELLING YOU, YOU FLYBOYS CRACK ME UP!"  And Homer promptly drives the airplane off the runway and into a pond. 

It's like they tried to make an entire movie out of that bit.  In fact, they rip off the bit several times, with Mater flat-out saying that he's not a spy, just a small town tow truck.  And what do McMissel and Shiftwell do?  They applaud Mater for his commitment to his cover story.  That makes them the dumbest spies in movie history. 

There is some good, though.  I mean, like the other Cars films, they animation is gorgeous.  About as photo-realistic as you can get, as Pixar renders Tokyo, the Italian countryside (race #2 takes place in Monte Carlo) and London (where race #3 takes place).  A great voice case, too, to voice our new characters.  Michael Caine is great as McMissel, Emily Mortimer is adorable as Shiftwell, and Stanley Tucci chews the scenery as Bernouli. 

Speaking of a great voice cast and wasted opportunities, how about Bruce Campbell as the American spy that Mater is mistaken for?  He only gets about 10 lines before the villains kill him off. 

The film does have on redeeming characteristic.  I think Michael Giacchino is one of the best film composers working today, and Giacchino does an amazing score.  Giacchino manages to channel so many other composers and diverse musical styles for this film.  For the spy action, he does this great James Bond Theme sound-a-like.  For the opening scenes of Mater and McQueen screwing around in Radiator Springs, he channels some classic, 1960s Disney.  But he does his original stuff, too.  For the races, he comes up with this great stuff that sounds like a blend of what Randy Newman did in the first film and Giacchino's Speed Racer score. 

In fact, Giacchino is responsible for the one moment...the one genuine laugh...that this film gives me.  What I love about every single Pixar film is each and every one is able to throw at lease one curve ball...do at least one thing so out of left field that I just go, "Whoa." 

As already mentioned, Giacchion does a great James Bond-esque main theme for the film. 

At the film's climax, when Mater has his House moment and is able to use his knowledge of car parts to deduce the villain's identity, and Mater goes racing off to stop the villain, we hear...

...that theme...


...on a banjo. 

I'm not talking like a bluegrass cover or anything like that.  We hear that exact theme, that arrangement and everything, with the lead guitar...replaced...with a banjo.  They mention on the running commentary that Giacchino had to track down some obscure electric banjo to make it work.

And it's fucking brilliant.   

And I was fucking pissed because I bought the soundtrack album just for the cut, and it wasn't on the soundtrack album!  The closest is this one.  Maybe they couldn't put the banjo version on for reasons.  This is the closest cut on the soundtrack album. That first 30 seconds...try to imagine it with a banjo instead of a guitar.

So there ya go.  Cars 2.  Come because your kids made you, stay for the banjo.

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