Thursday, September 23, 2021

Reserved Seating Ranks the Pixars: CARS 2

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who are spies in Japan.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: Before we get into our review of Cars 2, we have an announcement! Starting in October, Reserved Seating will change from a written article to a video you can enjoy. We hope you like the new format and welcome your suggestions for topics you would like us to cover!

Cars 2 flip flops the lead and supporting character from the original Cars film with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) taking focus and Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) providing backup. Mater becomes entangled in the world of international spies, working with car spies voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer to take down a conspiracy involving fuel, lemon cars, and other nonsense. Mater and Lightning have a falling out and yadda yadda yadda. Cars 2 is also notable for being centered around a Grand Prix race that takes the cars out of Radiator Springs and into photogenic locales like Japan, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom.
This is the only Pixar movie I had not seen prior to this week. It’s a little odd that I saw Cars 3 and not Cars 2, but the stench on Cars 2 among film circles was so strong that I avoided it altogether. To my surprise, I think I like Cars 2 the most out of the three Cars films. I’m not saying this as an outright endorsement of Cars 2, but perhaps my low expectations worked to the movie’s benefit on this first watch. Mater is annoying as a lead but not as taxing as reputed (plus there’s less Owen Wilson, kachow!). The change of scenery showcases some beautiful animation work from the Pixar artists. All the spy nonsense, while not necessarily engaging, is better than the dead air of the original Cars. The sequel is at least trying to do something different with the formula and that I appreciate. I’m not very interested in heartland humor, non-Bond spies, car races, and the debate of fuel sources, but at least this is a point of view - courtesy of fallen Pixar honcho John Lassetter. You and I are listeners to the Blank Check Podcast and Cars 2 definitely feels like one of those for Lassetter even more than the original Cars. This is fetish cinema courtesy of the most prestigious animation studio in the land.

What do you think of Cars 2?

Rob: I agree that the animation here is top-notch, but other than that, we might be in opposite camps on Cars 2.

Adam: Not really, I still don’t like the movie. I just dislike it less than Cars and Cars 3, which are voids of interest. Cars 2 kept me engaged because it was such a misguided swing.

Rob: Agreed. This is everything I dislike in a sequel combined with everything I dislike in a sports movie: This time, the competition is international (so we can start building out the toy line). This time, the hero takes a backseat to the standout sidekick (since caricatures are a lot easier to write for than characters). This time, we tie in a new genre and pop culture references and spin-off characters and on and on and on. In just the tiny bit of Wikipedia skimming I did while watching Cars 2, one Lasseter quote stood out: While on a global promotion tour for the first Cars, he kept looking at foreign novelties like the autobahn and asking, “What would Mater do in a situation like this?” The movie was doomed from there, as far as I’m concerned.

Adam: Jeez, why does he think we like Mater so much? Continue...
Rob: And look, I get that a sequel has to go bigger and that this isn’t the first franchise to shift genres. There’s a way to do it that retains focus on characters, though, and the decision to build Cars 2 around a series of Mater fart jokes and hapless misunderstandings makes this the first in the accidental Pixar for Babies series, movies that feel like ninety minutes of contempt for the audience. I’ve written about the Fat Amy Problem in the past, and Cars 2 is a powerful example. Mater works as a jokester who can add a button on a scene or a sweet little B plot that humanizes the cockier Lightning McQueen. An entire narrative built around him gets old very, very fast. And I get that Mater’s arc is about confronting the role he plays as the idiot clown, and all that. But, like Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect, that isn’t enough.

A lot of folks are going to disagree with me here and say that I’m expecting too much from a silly movie about cars or that I’m doing my usual “story and character are the most important parts of filmmaking” bullshit. That’s totally fine. That IS what I find interesting about movies, so this all checks out. In fairness to Cars 2, I will say that this is the Cars movie I’ve seen the least. My son was super into the franchise when he was little, and we watched Cars and Cars 3 (which learns from 2’s mistakes and does a nice, stripped-down Rocky Balboa-esque story) almost on repeat. He never asked to watch Cars 2 a second time, though, so I must have some residual affection for the other two that is coloring my opinion. I’m fine with that. I just don’t like this one. I don’t like that the cars do kung fu. I don’t like that they use guns. I don’t understand why the UK still has a monarchy. Cars 2 just doesn’t work for me.
I know we still have to talk about Cars 3, but if they make Cars 4, where would you like to see it go? Should it expand again? Should they do a haunted house mystery or a ‘70s road picture, or something?

Adam: If I’m being honest, I hope with all my heart that they don’t make Cars 4 because these movies are BORING. If I’m being glib, I would say they should go to hell...which actually is a good idea. I want Cars 4 to be set in hell and it’s like Escape From New York. Did I just fix the Cars series?

Anything else on Cars 2? Want to talk about the new Reserved Seating format instead?

Rob: We’re always looking for ways to keep the column interesting (for us and for our readers), and so we’re giving this new video format a try. We’re planning some bits, some games, some guests, and all kinds of other fun stuff. One more week of written columns, though, as our summer baseball series concludes next week with 2002’s The Rookie. Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.


  1. I never saw Cars. Never saw Doc Hollywood, either, and for much the same reason. Just not into the "Stop and smell the flowers" trope.

    But I did like Cars 2. (So does YouTuber Bobsheaux.) I also like The Man Called Flintstone, for what that's worth.

  2. Future episode: favorite Two-Handers