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Re: Cars 2 (2011)

I wanted to thank you for your review for Cars 2. Because you gave it a negative review, I went to see the movie with no expectations. Thanks to my lack of expectations, I was able to appreciate the movie for what it was — a fun, stunningly beautiful summer popcorn flick. It was certainly not anywhere close to Pixar’s best film — — but I think after so many brilliant successes Pixar can be cut a bit of slack? Not everyone can be perfect 100% of the time. If the next film is not up to “Pixar Standards”, then I think there is reason for concern. But from my point of view, this movie just proves that Pixar can pull off even lighthearted summer flicks better than any studio in Hollywood. (Compare How to Train Your Dragon with Cars 2 — there isn’t any comparison.)

Thanks for all the hard work you do. I really appreciate your reviews and agree with you about 80% of the time. (I am not a big action movie fan.)

I don’t think my take on Cars 2 is overall negative — I think it’s a mediocre film, not a bad one, although I do object to the shallowness of the way that Mater is affirmed Just The Way He Is, with no need for Mater to change. (The original Cars understood that Lightning had to change. A protagonist who doesn’t need to change is usually boring; a protagonist who could use some change but whom the filmmakers like just the way he is threatens to become insufferable.)

Can we cut Pixar some slack after so many brilliant successes? I think that depends on what you mean. I think a mediocre movie should get essentially the same treatment whether it comes from DreamWorks, Pixar or anyone else. (One might possibly work one’s opinions more gently with a small indie film, but the end judgment should be the same.) I don’t think critics should be harder on a mediocre Pixar film just because Pixar’s usual standards are so high, nor do I think Pixar should get a pass because they usually do such good work.

That was kind of the point of my intro in which I pointed out that Cars 2 could just as easily have been a DreamWorks film, or a Blue Sky film, etc. And that’s how I evaluated it. The only Pixar movie that really figured into my thinking in reviewing Cars 2 was the original Cars, because at the end of the day Cars 2 is a sequel and it’s reasonable to use the original as a point of comparison and contrast.

Incidentally, note that just as I cast Cars 2 as a potential non-Pixar film before reviewing it, likewise in reviewing non-Pixar films I sometimes point to Pixar’s achievements as an example of what’s still missing in their competition. For example, in my review of Blue Sky Studios’ Robots I noted that “the main reason that neither Blue Sky nor DreamWorks Animation can yet compete with Pixar narratively (never mind visually)” that they “simply havenít got the knack of created layered characters who are interesting in themselves and emotional complexities that grab the audience.” If I note that this is lacking in a non-Pixar cartoon, then I think it’s equally fair to note when it’s lacking in a Pixar cartoon.

I agree that there’s no comparison between How to Train Your Dragon and Cars 2. Cars 2 can’t hold a candle to How to Train Your Dragon. In addition to having a cooler world, more engaging characters, better relationships, better action, a more satisfying climax, and a hero who develops over the course of the film, consider just this one point of contrast: In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup is permanently maimed in the climactic battle and has to live with a metal prosthesis for the rest of his life. In Cars 2, Mater gets rocket-powered upgrades. One of these packs an emotional punch. The other doesn’t. There’s a maxim at Pixar: “For every laugh, a tear.” Which film better exemplifies this principle: How to Train Your Dragon or Cars 2?

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