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Mater's Tall Tales: the Movie
on 29 July 2011
The 4-star rating above composes 3 stars for the story and 5 for the animation - I err on the side of generosity as, of course, Cars 2 is not as bad as the critics said. They didn't particularly like the original Cars, so they were unlikely to welcome a sequel with open arms, especially one with Mater as the main character! But this isn't a straightforward sequel that leaves the spirit of the original intact. I found it surprisingly violent. Other reviewers commented on the torture scene - and that's not the only nasty moment. It definitely should have got the PG rating mysteriously allocated to its predecessor which was really a U. The set pieces are spectacular, but as this film sets off doggedly down the action movie route there is little counterbalancing character development or emotional buy-in that distinguish Pixar at its best. Given that the original file has cult status among under-10 boys, I felt that the plot is quite complex for younger children to grasp, even if they're not bothered by the violence. At least this will make it watchable for a repeat viewing.
Following the success of "Mater's Tall Tales", Mater has obviously emerged as the most popular (or marketable, or John Lasseter's favourite) Cars character, so Pixar decided to make him the central character in Cars 2. Having closed the loop on Radiator Springs in the original film they needed a McGuffin to make "Mater's Tall Tales the Movie" work. Unfortunately the vehicle (no pun) chosen is a spy film, a rather dated genre which sends the film off down a violent action path with very limited opportunity for character development (think: when did you last care about anyone in a James Bond film?) It also sidelines the racing theme - surely the unique selling point of a film about anthropomorphic cars - along with most of the strong characters from the first film. Even Lightning McQueen plays second fiddle to Mater.
The original Cars was criticised, unfairly, for its long slow middle section. But, this did give time for character development so sorely lacking here. Cars 2 over compensates by accelerating into rocket speed in the middle after a fast start and not slowing up until the end.
On the positive side the animation is truly amazing (and will be equally amazing in 2D). If only it had a better story to tell! As a digitially animated London whisked past at rocket speed towards the end I felt that a lot of talent - and money (it cost $200 million to make!) had been splurged in making a film that's not the sum of what went into it. I left the cinema dazzled, slightly disappointed but hoping that there will be a successor. Like Shrek the Third, Cars 2 really isn't a bad film, but it has let down its predecessor and needs a final chapter to redeem the franchise. But please, Pixar, don't make Mater's Tall Tales 2!
** Update after rewatching on DVD - In my heart of hearts I can't justify this film being any higher than 3 stars so have downgraded my review rating. There are many fine vignettes and details in this film (yes, that is Gusteau's Restaurant from Ratatouille renamed as Gastow's, plus watch out for "British Wheeland" references and the car with headlight eyes in the Paris market scene). Also the plot is much more understandable a second time. But for all cleverness the film lacks the warmth of the original Cars: a definite 5-star film, or indeed virtually everything else in Pixar's back catalogue. The paucity of bonuses on the DVD tells its own story: "Air Mater" (a new Mater's Tall Tales - advertising the forthcoming "Planes") and the Toy Story toon which accompanied the cinema release. No making-of documentary, studio stories or director's commentary. Plus the biggest give way of the lot: the word "Classic" on back of the DVD box. Last time I saw this was on Chicken Little - need I say more! Even the technical expertise of the animation screams vanity project. I think Pixar realise that they've produced a 24-carat misfire and this film will sink faster than Finn McMissile when he abandons the oil rig in the opening sequence.