Finding Dory

In 2003, PIXAR Studios released their classic heartwarming tale Finding Nemo. It told the story of a widowed Clownfish (Marlin) as he crosses the ocean with a forgetful Blue Tang (Dory) in an attempt to find his fishnapped son (Nemo). There were calls for a sequel in the years that followed, but aside from Toy Story 2 & 3, PIXAR was primarily focused on producing new ideas like Wall-E and Ratatouille. However, as is the way with all film companies, the allure of guaranteed sequel profit proved to be too good, and in 2016 Finding Dory was released. This is, of course, a more cynical view of the movie’s conception, but I like to think that they believed in the story they were telling. PIXAR has always said that they only animate scripts that they deem to be a decent continuation of a previous story.

Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo, and follows Dory as she travels to the Marine Life Institute in California to find her parents, with Marlin and Nemo following closely behind. This is a story that, for lack of better phrasing, makes sense to tell. We really don’t know all that much about Dory, and as she discovers more about herself, so do we. Her Short Term Memory Loss is a key plot device here, and it almost never feels like the butt of a joke. I’ll continue to commend the film for that, so it’s quite disappointing that the same respect is not paid to her friends Destiny and Bailey. The former is a Whale Shark who has restricted vision whilst the latter is a Beluga Whale who is faking the loss of his echolocation. And then there is poor little Becky. She is a Loon Bird who carries Marlin and Nemo into the Marine Life Institute in a bucket and is portrayed has having a mental disability. (Because she’s a Loon. Get it?) This makes for a great deal of misunderstanding between her and the other characters, which leads to a great amount of hilarity. From the studio that handled mental illness so well in Inside Out, this is a bit of disappointment.

As with many sequels, you are better off watching the original film first. However, I feel like a truly terrific sequel can still stand on it’s own (see Terminator 2) and Finding Dory almost comes close. If you did watch Finding Nemo first then this film carries more of an emotional impact, but if you haven’t seen it then you don’t need to worry, because you can pick up the plot of Finding Nemo from this. Of course, I have no idea why you wouldn’t watch Finding Nemo first… but assuming you did, then the possibility of Dory leaving Marlin and Nemo to be with her parents is Finding Dory‘s biggest emotional thread. The film never shies away from the possibility that this is the outcome, and that something like that can be emotionally devastating, but it never follows through on that totally. This is still a PIXAR film so of course everybody stays together at the end. This is all fine, but where it becomes an issue is in the film’s conclusion where it flip-flops between this being, and then not being, the resolution, before it finally does become the resolution. It really makes the final act of Finding Dory feel like a mental challenge to keep up with.

Where the film really shines is in the animation and the score, which have both come a long way in the 14 years since Finding Nemo. This is PIXAR’s 17th feature film, and the 2nd to be set primarily in water, and WOW you can tell. Water used to be one of the most difficult aspects of animation (maybe it still is) but the animation here borders on realistic. The way that you can see particles floating through the water, the way that the animals are reflected on the surface from underneath it, and the way that it clings to the animals making them continuously moist, is downright astounding. The realism felt a little off in The Good Dinosaur where it was only on the scenery, and the characters didn’t fit that aesthetic. In Finding Dory, there is a perfect balance. If I had to recommend this film for any reason, it would be the animation. The score coming in as a close second. PIXAR brought in composer Thomas Newman, who had previously worked on Finding Nemo, and brings back that ethereal feel for the ocean as well as a fun, quirky vibe when it’s needed. The soundtrack also features a Bondesque rendition of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable by Sia.

I find that there is more to like about Finding Dory than there is to dislike. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it looks and sounds stunning, while the importance of having the main character voiced by an out lesbian can’t be understated (even if it is Ellen). Also, Sigourney Weaver is here and you’d better believe that they get as much use out of her voice as possible. To me, this is a worthwhile sequel to a beloved classic.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Disney Investor Day 2020

It’s that time of the year when Walt Disney Studios gather their investors together to display some of the projects that they have coming down the pipeline. As with previous years, we, the general public, were able to attend via livestream, although the majority of new footage was reserved purely for investors. With Disney’s intention to provide at least 100 new pieces of content each year, there was a lot of information to unpack, and that’s not what I’m here to do. If you’d like full rundowns of the information, they are readily available online from a variety of sources. Instead, I am going to go through the announcements that had me excited and/or intrigued, although if we are being honest I will end up watching most of what they create anyway.

Sunny

The first major piece of news for me was the confirmation that It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has been given the go ahead for 4 more series. This pushes the total number of series up to 18 and makes it the longest running live-action sitcom in history – ahead of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet at 14 series. I can’t wait to spend more time with the horrible owners of Paddy’s Pub.

Kenobi

News of a series set around Star Wars legend Obi Wan Kenobi was announced at last year’s Disney Expo, but we now know that the limited series will pick up 10 years after Revenge of the Sith. This sets it 1 year after the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story and 5 years before the TV Series Rebels. The major news is that prequel star Hayden Christensen is set to reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker (now Darth Vader). I’m sold.

Visions

Star Wars Visions will be a series of short films brought to us by some of the finest Japanese anime creators. You read that right, we’re getting Anime Star Wars. No, I don’t feel like I need to explain further.

Rogue Squadron

With a title taken from the video games of the late 1990s, which were set between the events of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, I can only assume then is when this film takes place. The real news here is that it will be directed by the wonderful Patty Jenkins, who is fresh of the heels of the Wonder Woman films. This makes her the first woman to take charge of a Star Wars film and I can think of nothing more important or exciting for this franchise than that.

Wimpy Kid

The book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid has already been adapted into a set of live action films, but this next instalment is to be animated in the style of the original books’ illustrations. I’ve always felt the story would work better that way and it’s nice to see it finally happening.

Rescue Rangers

I did not expect to be excited by this news, but this will be a live action/animation hybrid featuring comedians John Mulaney and Andy Samberg. These are a few of my favourite things/people and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Tiana

It would appear that Disney+ Series are the new direct-to-video sequels, and we’re getting a few of them. Tiana is taking us back into the world of The Princess and the Frog which, I feel, may be one of the most underrated Disney productions.

Lightyear

I’ll be honest, I’m looking forward to everything that PIXAR is developing, but this one is especially exciting. This film will be a Buzz Lightyear origin story that inspired the toy in the universe of Toy Story and I’ve kind of always wanted that. Plus they have Chris Evans onboard to voice the titular spaceman. Now we just need a TV Series of Woody’s Roundup.

Wandavison

This TV Series looks like it will be the most original concept that Marvel Studios has produced in a very long time. The aesthetic looks really interesting, and Elizabeth Olsen is more than good enough to carry a series of her own. I’m looking forward to perhaps seeing the full extent of Scarlet Witches’ powers.

Loki

I was probably going to watch this anyway because, Tom Hiddleston seems like he has a lot of fun in the role, but now I’ve seen footage of the show itself and it does look like fun. They also have Owen Wilson, and time travel, which is a combination I would very much like to have.

She Hulk

This is the closest thing we are going to get to a solo Hulk venture for quite a while, which is reason enough to be excited. It’s also going to be focused on her role as a lawyer, so according to Kevin Feige “there’s no telling who might show up”. This feels like a Daredevil tease, but what is confirmed is that Eli Roth will be returning as The Abomination, a character not seen since 2008.

What about the rest?

You’d think that with so many new pieces of media in the realm of both Star Wars and Marvel that I’d have more items on this list, and I’d have thought so too. The thing is that practically all of the other content they announced ties directly into something else, and I would really like some stand-alone content. The Mandalorian has been some of the best Star Wars content, I feel, because it can stand on its own. As for Marvel, I’m honestly a little burned out, as many people are, I think. With both franchises ending their major film plans last year, there was a lot of hype, and for some, a lot of disappointment. I love these franchises as much as anybody (heck, I’m going to keep watching and probably enjoying them regardless) but I think slowing down before speeding back up would have given everyone a little time to breathe. There’s something to be said for selective content.

Signed: Your hypocritical neighbourhood queer

The Good Dinosaur

You may recall in my review for Cars 2 that I mentioned how it was the first film in PIXAR’s repertoire that was considered a failure, in that it wasn’t a huge success at the Box Office. At the time, and for the several years that followed, it was seen as the worst film that the studio had ever produced – though I believe this reputation to be undeserved. The next few of PIXAR’s projects fared better, but in late 2015 they would release their first official Box Office failure- The Good Dinosaur. It’s important to note here just how much the studio usually earns in order to understand how abnormal The Good Dinosaur was. The two previous films, Inside Out and Monsters University, raked in $858 million and $743 million respectively, while their next film Finding Dory made just short of $1 billion. In contrast, The Good Dinosaur made around $332 million, which coupled with the roughly $350 million cost of production and marketing, put the studio at a loss- the first, and currently only, in their history. This is unfortunate and came as a shock to me while I was conducting my research, but in retrospect, I maybe shouldn’t have expected a huge profit to start with. This isn’t the film’s fault, and I’ll get to that, but first I feel we should go over the film itself.

We follow Arlo the dinosaur as he travels over harsh terrain in order to return home to his family. Along the way he encounters faces that are friendly, some that are not so friendly, and befriends a wild human that he names Spot. The main premise here is that the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs 75 million years ago missed, which has allowed dinosaurs to evolve alongside the human race. Arlo, his brother, sister and parents are farmers who have adapted to using their bodies as farm equipment. Their sturdy heads plough the field, their colossal tails make for effective axes and their mouths are capable of holding enough water to spray an entire field of crops, but this accounts for 20 minutes of the 94 minute film. I think that it would have been really interesting to see a whole community of different dinosaurs with different jobs and perhaps how those skills develop over the centuries, but instead we get to witness Arlo travelling. It’s not a bad premise, and I am definitely fond of the relationship that Arlo develops with Spot, but I get this feeling that I’ve seen it all before. In essence, I think The Good Dinosaur’s biggest issue is that it lacks in new ideas. Early PIXAR films were known for their groundbreaking CGI, and all 15 of their previous entries are either a new premise or a new exploration of an old premise. This film feels like a reel of all the best parts from those films. You’ll find the “unexpected friends” trope in Toy Story, the “beautiful landscape” aspect in Brave and the “dead parent” trope in Finding Nemo. These are not bad aspects in and of themselves but this is the 16th PIXAR film in 20 years, so it needs something special of its own.

The plot also does not feel particularly coherent. There is a general through plot, with Arlo attempting to return home, but the events in this film don’t take place in any particular order. These scenes individually are rather fun, with the T-Rex ranchers being a particular highlight, but they all feel removed from each other. The T-Rex ranchers have an issue and Arlo helps. The hippie dinosaur wants to keep Spot for himself but that resolves itself. Even the storm-chasers, who appear twice, don’t seem to have a lasting impact on Arlo, but this is not the film’s fault. As I researched, I discovered a troubled production that I hadn’t been hyper-aware of at the time. According to reports, The Good Dinosaur was to be a story akin to Billy Elliot where Arlo is an outcast within his own community. This version of the story is more like what I would have expected to see, but by 2014 the entire plot had been essentially re-written to make “nature” the main antagonist because it was felt the other dinosaurs were becoming too unlikable. As someone who is very open about their thoughts on how “studio meddling” should be kept to a minimum, I find this kind of infuriating. The Good Dinosaur is enjoyable, but it’s clear to me that it was treated extremely poorly behind the scenes. It could have been great.

At the end of the day, the film itself is enjoyable. The CGI is the most gorgeous that PIXAR has ever done and is close to photo-realistic. You don’t have to pay a huge amount of attention to notice the water droplets falling from the leaves or the dew sitting on the rocks. This puts it apart from the usually cartoon-ish style of the studio and so is relatively groundbreaking for the industry. I’m also a fan of the characters, including Arlo himself. The T-Rex ranchers are rather charming and the storm-chasers are genuinely close to terrifying, but perhaps my favourite aspect is the overall message, At its core, The Good Dinosaur is about addressing your fears and using them to motivate you. Fear is just another emotion, and one that we don’t need to ignore, which is par for the course when it comes to PIXAR. They have always prided themselves on challenging children with their work and with not speaking down to them, which is something a feel certain areas of Hollywood could do with learning. The Good Dinosaur may be an average film but it’s still worth checking out for yourself.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Inside Out

Children can be highly emotional at times. When you’re small, it seems to magnify the size of everything, be it physical objects or the issues of life. Tripping over your feet as an adult, though it may seem embarrassing, doesn’t compare to other issues like making sure you have enough money to pay the bills. In essence, you need to have lived long enough have to garnered enough life experience to know what issues will affect you in the long-term. It’s important that we, as adults, take that into consideration whenever we are dealing with issues that children may be having. It’s also important that when we have discussions surrounding the welfare of children, that those same children are included, and I can’t think of a better film to deliver on that premise than Inside Out.

We follow the 5 main emotions of 11 year old Riley Andersen as they struggle to cope with her family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. These emotions- Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust- are an over simplification of the vast spectrum of emotions experience by humanity (and that’s okay). This isn’t some kind of documentary about psychology, it’s a children’s movie with easily digestible themes. Indeed, it wouldn’t be long before the core cast of Inside Out were being used in classrooms and therapists offices as a way of simplifying the discussion so that younger minds could digest information more easily. In this regard, 5 turns out to be an ideal number of emotions as it stops the conversation from being too weighed down but it also assists with the narrative of the film. After all, Inside Out is first and foremost a children’s film designed to entertain. It only takes 5 emotions for this story to work and they get a gradual introduction over the first 10 minutes. We are also introduced to their human – Riley – and her parents though it is through the eyes of the emotions. Riley is a character but she is also a vessel through which the narrative takes place.

This narrative is set into motion when Joy and Sadness find themselves accidentally transferred from the main hub of Riley’s mind to her long-term memory storage. This leaves Riley with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust which some may see as “negative” emotions. As a result, Riley becomes more and more depressed until the remaining emotions are unable to make her feel anything at all. As someone who has been coping with depression for quite some time, I recognise how reductive this depiction is, however it also really resonated with me. I felt like the crew who worked on this project understood, at least on a surface level, how depression could feel and that they delivered it with a certain level of respect. I’ve been finding it difficult to write this review due to some unforeseen circumstances in my personal life this week, but also because this film hits me so deeply that I find it difficult to watch, let alone write about. The word “triggered” has practically been ruined by people who want to use it to belittle people they deem as lesser than them, but its original meaning still stands. Inside Out, on a particularly bad day, could genuinely trigger a depressive or anxious episode in me. This is not a criticism, in fact it’s far from it. If a film is causing you to have feelings, then that film is doing its job effectively.

This is the 15th feature film from PIXAR Studios and it’s becoming clear that their animation has developed a certain style. The unique worlds that they create have often lacked in humans but the people here have a similar look to those in a previous film- Brave– and to those in the films that would follow. In the same way that Dreamworks characters have very distinctive eyebrows, the PIXAR characters have very expressive eyes. They also have regular human proportions which, I suppose, helps it to feel less like a cartoon and more like an extension of our own world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does feel like it lacks the creativity of earlier PIXAR projects. They were once pushing the boundaries of what computer animation was capable of, but now, while still kings in their field, it feels like they’ve settled for consistency. There was a two year gap between Monsters University and Inside Out and we’ve never had to wait that long again. There were mere months between Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur and then a year between each following release (2017 got 2!). I know that this is due to them refining their process and hiring more staff which means that they can work on several projects at once, but this is the last of PIXAR’s films that I’ve re-watched. Inside Out is a wonderful film and a heck of a conversation starter, but it might be the last time that a PIXAR film felt like PIXAR.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Monsters University

I have always had a fascination with stories. As I child I would read constantly, and as I grew older I became an avid viewer of movies, both of which rely on a good story despite being two different mediums. I think this fascination may be at the heart of why I aim to get as much out of a film as I can, be it about the characters or the production process. When it comes to the subject of character, sequels can be an excellent method of development, and the same can be said of prequels. By 2013, PIXAR Studios had provided us with 3 sequels, with 2 for Toy Story and 1 for Cars, on top of their 10 original projects, but there wasn’t a prequel to be seen. Their first, and to date only, prequel would be a spin-off of the highly popular 2001 film Monsters Inc entitled Monsters University, or Monsters Uni for short. There had been, and continue to be, many calls for a direct sequel to Monsters Inc so a prequel was certainly an unexpected move, but it may have been, at least in my opinion, the better choice.

We follow the previous film’s protagonists Mike Wasowski and James “Sully” Sullivan through university as they compete in the Scare Games and find a lifelong friendship along the way. Perhaps the greatest hurdle of any prequel is that it must inevitably end in a way that directs us into the original film. Because this precedes Monsters Inc, we know that Mike and Sully will become lifelong roommates working for the titular company, so we know that their rivalry in Monsters Uni will be short-lived. It just so happens that I am a firm believer that the journey is equally important, if not more so, than the final destination, and this is quite the journey. Mike is a bit of a loner and Sully is a local celebrity, being the son of a scarer, so putting them both in the Scare Programme provides enough friction to carry the entire film. But an incident leads to them both being expelled from the programme, and from here they join a lackluster group of monsters in the Oozma Kampa fraternity so that they can win the Scare Games and be re-instated, so the stakes are high. All PIXAR films have an overarching lesson to them and there is no attempt to hide that Monsters Uni is all about teamwork, in relation to each other as well as the fraternity. Each of the monsters in Oozma Kampa brings something different to the table, but, like Mike, they have been outcast for not being scary enough. Unlike Mike, they aren’t in in for personal gain and are just happy to finally be included, which makes rooting for them easy. They are hard not to care about.

There are only a handful of main characters, but since this is set on a college campus, the amount of background characters is innumerable. As I have made my way through the PIXAR library, I have noticed certain improvements due to the progress of time and of technology. We are now a long way from the clone children of Toy Story, with each background character being 100% unique. It had been this way for quite some time, in fact the main selling point of Cars 2 seemed to be how many unique, merchandise-able characters were in it, but Monsters Uni is where that progress really stands out to me. There are monsters with slime, scales, fur, shells, multiple heads and backpacks all in one frame which is a level of skill and computer processing power that I find it hard to comprehend, but here it is nonetheless. There is an in-universe trading card game which features different scarers from across the ages and I am gutted that they didn’t make it into a genuine set, because it would have been an astounding demonstration of the artwork present in this film. It also would have likely raked in more cash for Disney, so I feel like they may have dropped the ball on that one. A special shout-out goes to the people who designed and rendered the buildings because I can only imagine that real-life buildings are difficult enough. Building this reality in which the characters exist is truly commendable.

As always, the score is magnificent. While some sequels and prequels might rely on previously established musical motifs, Monsters Uni has a almost wholly original score. I say almost because a couple of those old motifs do still manage to sneak in there, most noticeably in the track Field Trip, but it is a rarity. Once again we are being treated to the compositions of Randy Newman in what is his 7th collaboration with PIXAR after the Toy Story trilogy, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc, and Cars. His work is very distinct and if you dwell on that for too long, it can become rather distracting, but I still rather enjoy his music. The score here can be light and airy but also intense and urgent, perhaps more so than in any of his previous films, but I wouldn’t have been upset if they had brought in somebody else. That’s the thing about change- it can be for the better. Nobody expecting a prequel for Monsters Inc because they were, and some still are, more interested in a direct sequel, but this is what we got. It doesn’t rely on the original film in any aspect and introduces us to new, likeable characters and interesting settings. For those who have watched Monsters Inc there are one or two subtle nods and expectation subversions but nothing that are important to the story.

The way I see it, Monsters University is further background for a story that I already love. It has the added benefit of being a well-written and, at times, emotional piece. If you are of the opinion that all sequels, prequels and spin-offs are empty cash-grabs then I implore you to watch this film and reconsider.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Brave

2012 was quite a momentous year. Not only was the world supposedly due to end, but London was to host the Olympic Games. This meant that the eyes of the world would be fixed on the United Kingdom which, for the time being, includes Scotland. What better time to release an animated children’s film that demonstrates the beauty and the culture of the Highlands? It’s worth noting that the release of Brave happening around the time of the 2012 Olympics is pure coincidence, with work on the film beginning in 2008 before a change of director in 2010 delayed the project. What isn’t a coincidence is the Scottish Government’s use of this film to promote tourism in a country that hadn’t been portrayed by previous films in the best light. Perhaps two of the biggest titles were the historically inaccurate Braveheart and the wonderfully made Trainspotting, which portray Scotland as a violent nest of drugs, crime, and alcohol. At the time, The Guardian reported that VisitScotland, which is responsible for Scotland’s tourist trade, set aside £7 million to advertise itself alongside Brave in the hopes that it would increase tourism by roughly £140 million. Sadly, I cannot find any evidence that this was the case or even that tourism increased at all, but Brave itself proved to be much more successful.

We follow princess Merida as she defies the ancient custom of arranged marriage to set out on her own path. In order to change the mind of her disapproving mother, she procures a spell from a witch that turns her, unexpectedly, into a bear. What follows is a tale of magic, intrigue and familial bonding. This is PIXAR Studios second story to feature a princess, after A Bug’s Life, and they’ve come out of the gate swinging. There is a long history of Disney Princesses, though not all of them belong to the Disney Princess brand (I’m not getting into that here), and that history is filled to the brim with rushed love. Of the 14 animated princesses that Disney had provided at the time, not one of them remained single, which makes Merida’s story a truly historic milestone for the company. Whilst the Walt Disney Company is only responsible for the distribution of Brave, they officially made Merida a part of the Disney Princess brand in 2013. Brave chose to be about a love just as powerful- the love of family- and it is abundantly clear from the very first scene where, on young Merida’s birthday, her father gifts her a bow and arrow. While her mother clearly isn’t pleased with this gift, she allows Merida to play with it anyway and allows her to keep it in the following years. These three characters have a very natural chemistry and it makes for a wonderful viewing experience, even when they’re apart. This is even more apparent when Merida’s mother is turned into a bear and can no longer use words to communicate. The use of body language to convey emotion is something that PIXAR has always been good at, but it has never taken centre stage like this. I’m very much reminded of Aardman Animations’ Wallace and Gromit and I can think of no higher praise for a movie than that.

At this point, we are 13 films into the PIXAR catalogue and I once again find myself praising the visuals. I know that consistently reading about how beautiful these movies are must seem repetitive, but this is my review and these films just keep getting prettier. As with Up, the production team took a trip abroad to make sure they were representing the landscapes as best as they could, and it really pays off. Whether its the thistles, the architecture or the clothing. Brave looks and feels like Scotland. Not only that, but PIXAR made sure to hire Scottish actors and a Scottish composer in order to make the film as authentic as possible. Again, it pays off, and I find that I occasionally have to remind myself that this is an American film. I think the final aspect of Brave‘s success is how dark it is in tone. By 2012, there seemed to be a move away from dark elements in children’s films towards something lighter. Gone were the horrors of Don Bluth Animations and even the early Walt Disney cartoons. While films like The Land Before Time and The Dark Cauldron had supposedly scarred a generation, films like Frozen aimed to be a sort of “fluff piece.” Perhaps adults wanted to protect the innocence of their children for a little while longer or perhaps these happier films were easier to market. I do not know. What I do know is that Mor’du is perhaps the scariest character that PIXAR has ever given us, and perhaps the scariest in children’s films full stop. I think it’s good to challenge children like this, and to show that they are no less capable of handling fear than an adult. Judging by Brave‘s positive reception from both critics and audiences, it would seem like there is some foundation for this statement. The longest lasting impact from this film seems to have been Merida, which is a shame because there is so much more to Brave than just the main character.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Cars 2

The year was 2011 and PIXAR Studios was on the verge of releasing it’s twelfth feature film. So far, it had been a series of box office hits and it seemed like nothing would ever slow them down however that all changed with Cars 2- a sequel to one of their biggest films and the second sequel the studio had ever made. While the first film was about slowing down and taking pleasure in the small things to get more out of life, this one was about how friends may argue but they are still friends. Of course, changing the moral of your story from one film to the next is to be expected if you want the stories to feel fresh and the moral here is a good one. There just happen to be spy involved.

This time around we follow the tow truck mater as he travels to the World Grand Prix with his best friend Lightning McQueen. After an argument breaks out between them, Mater head back to Radiator Springs, only to become embroiled in a spy mission which puts every race car at a deadly risk. This is a far cry from the simple premise of Cars but I’ll give it credit for being innovative. It’s like if a James Bond film was to focus on the sidekick rather than the man himself, which provides a fresh spin on the classic narrative and is an idea that I love. When it comes to Cars 2 though, I’m not such a fan of that role going to Mater. He’s a fleshed out character, just like the rest of the cast, but as I discussed in my review of the previous instalment [HERE] he isn’t my kind of character. Mater is a stereotypical depiction of a hillbilly, which is an issue in it’s own right, but I really believe that PIXAR is better than that. One of the reasons that I prefer PIXAR films to Disney is that they never speak down to children, opting instead to treat them as equals. Onward director Dan Scallon stated in a recent interview with UniLad [HERE] that “kids are smart, they go through some tough stuff so {talking down to them} doesn’t come up that often.” I feel like this isn’t the case with Mater, whose lack of intelligence is a recurring gag throughout the movie. It was tolerable in passing with Cars but making it the focal point here is quite damaging to the film. In a lot of ways it feels like they’re punching down and that is just not an acceptable form of comedy.

As for the spy plot, I have to admit, I’m kind of a fan. It’s a brand new direction for the studio and it’s certainly a bold one. Taking your story in a new direction is important in keeping your franchise feeling fresh and without that change, you have to lean on character development for growth. Sometimes change can lead to an iconic film like The Empire Strikes Back and sometimes it leads to the creation of something that many people would rather forget like Batman and Robin. Personally, I think that errs on the positive side despite some, like Time Out Magazine, claiming that it should be “towed off to the scrapyard.” There are countless spy films and with them comes countless gadgets but Cars 2 is required to take it one step further. What gadgets could a car use and where would they store them? What does a bathroom brawl look like and what about jetpacks? What would Sir Michael Cain sound like as some kind of Aston Martin with a moustache? Cars 2 manages to provide solid answers to all these questions and I was somewhat impressed by those answers. If you aren’t impressed by these answers, I hope that you can at least find them entertaining. Whether or not a spy plot belongs in a Cars movie is questionable but as a spy plot it wouldn’t go amiss in an instalment of the James Bond franchise and is ridiculously fun in parts. Perhaps the most questionable plot element is that the villains of the piece are “lemons” which are cars that don’t function as well as other high-brand models. Provided you don’t think of the real world ramifications of a rhetoric like this, you’ll be alright. If you are interested though, Jack Saint has a wonderful video on the very subject [HERE] but, be warned, there is profanity. It will also become impossible to view Cars 2 in the same way again, which is something I had to learn the hard way.

We now come to what is perhaps the most consistently wonderful part of any PIXAR movie- the score. In my review for the original film, I was mildly critical of the Pop!Country soundtrack which has mildly dated the film but that is not the case here. Cars 2 may have songs within the first half hour that I find forgettable but the score leans heavily on the spy aesthetic. I often listen to the score of a film as I’m writing about it and tracks like Mater’s Getaway are just as motivational as tracks from The Pirates of the Caribbean. It should come as no surprise then that the score was orchestrated by the always wonderful Michael Giacchino in his fourth collaboration with the studio. The art style of the film has also improved since its predecessor with some flat-out amazing wide shots of Japan, Italy and London. This is due, in part, to the evolution of CG technology in those 5 years but how that technology is used is just as important. If you aren’t super keen on this film, that is perfectly understandable but there is definitely enough in Cars 2 for every generation to enjoy.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbour hood queer