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Pixar piles on the international intrigue with “Cars 2”

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Pixar piles on the international intrigue with “Cars 2”

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Quick question: What do you think of the “Back to the Future” sequels?

Back to the Future II poster
Copyright 1989 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved

The reason I ask … Well, while many people consider the original “Back to the Future” to be an enormously entertaining movie, most folks don’t feel the same about “BTTF II” & “III.” Thanks -- in large part -- to the marked difference between the way Michael J. Fox’s character behaves in the first film and the way Marty McFly acts in the next two flicks.

I mean, think about it. In the original “Back to the Future,” Marty is this upbeat, think-on-his-feet kind of guy. Whereas in the “BTTF” sequels, McFly suddenly becomes this hot head who’s easily goaded into a fight if someone calls him “chicken.”

This may seem like a minor point to most people. But I genuinely think that it takes some of the fun away from “Back to the Future II” & “III” to suddenly have Marty behaving differently than he did in the first movie. That this lack of consistency between the three “BTTF” films / sudden & rather clumsy introduction of McFly’s hair-trigger temper significantly undermines the storyline of the last two installments of this much beloved series.

Back to the Future III poster
Copyright 1990 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved

But – then again -- what choice did Robert Zemekis & Bob Gale have? In order for Marty to learn & grow over the course of “Back to the Future II” & “III,” he had to undergo some sort of character development. And if McFly could just learn to control his temper … Well, this would then prevent the collision with that limo which brought Marty’s once-promising music career to a halt.

So from the film-makers’ side of the fence, I can understand why Zemekis & Gale did what they did. But – that said – the awkward introduction of this new story element (for me, anyway) takes away some of the fun of “Back to the Future II” & “III.”

“So why bring up the “BTTF” sequels?,” you ask. Well, the guys at Pixar were facing a similar situation with “Cars 2: World Grand Prix.” You see, in order for the storyline that they’d developed for this “Cars” sequel to play out properly, they now had to have Mater behave somewhat differently than he did in the first film. To be specific, this rusty old tow truck had to go from being a character with a gift for colorful phraseology (EX: “I’m as happy as a tornado in a trailer park”) to becoming someone who was now infamous for telling tall tales.

Ddisney Pixar's Cars 2 Poster
Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

So how did the people at Pixar decide to introduce audiences to Mater’s new character trait? Give moviegoers the idea that this loveable little tow truck might play fast & loose with the truth in “Cars 2”? By creating this brand-new series of “Cars Toons” called “Mater’s Tall Tales.”

Of course, what makes these new Pixar shorts fun is – at the end of each “Cars Toon” – there’s this moment when Lightning McQueen insists that there’s just no way that Mater was ever a stunt driver or a great matador or a heavy metal star … But then something happens on screen that suggests that maybe – just maybe – Mater is telling the truth.

Which brings us to the storyline for “Cars 2: World Grand Prix.” Which – according to what John Lasseter said at the D23 EXPO last week – grew out of those PR tours that he had to do for the international releases of Pixar’s films.

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Disney Pixar, at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival
John Lasseter, world traveler, at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

“I’d sit in the hotel and do interviews for 6 to 8 hours at a time, while my wife would get to go shopping or sight-seeing with an escort,” he remembered. “But as we were driving to the hotel, I’d look out the window and wonder how the Cars characters would deal with all the different things that they’d encounter in  this country.”

To be specific, John talked about possible gag ideas. Like Mater struggling to learn to drive on the left side of the road in London. Or getting stuck in one of Paris’ infamous traffic circles. Or learning how to deal with all those cars whizzing by him at 100 MPH on the German autobahn.

And it was these fish-out-of-water / Ugly-American-tourist ideas that Lasseter insisted be folded into “Cars 2: World Grand Prix.” Which – FYI – is being directed by Brad Lewis, the producer of Pixar’s Academy Award-winning feature, “Ratatouille.”

Lightening McQueen out on tour in malls everywhere
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Anyway … As “Cars 2” gets underway, Lightning McQueen is taking part in this enormous multi-stage international race of champions. Which kicks off in Japan with a nature-to-neon leg (which will take these cars from the forests at the foot at Mount Fuji right into the heart of Tokyo’s Ginza District).

With Mater now acting as the McQueen’s new Crew Chief (With Luigi, Guido , Ramone as well as several other familiar faces from Radiator Springs signing on to be members of Lightning’s pit crew), this little tow truck now has a lot of responsibility riding on his rusty shoulders.

But Mater being Mater … Well, he always tries to makes the best of every situation. Jump right in and experience the culture of each country the World Grand Prix takes them to. So when this race takes Lightning and his pit crew to Germany to race through the Black Forest … Well, Mater pulls on his Mater-hose and then joins right in on the fun at Oktoberfest.

Mater the tow truck from Disney Pixar's Cars on tour
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

But then somewhere along the way, Mater accidentally saves the life of Finn McMissile, this secret agent car who’s being pursued by bad guys … And Finn (because this tow truck came up with a really clever way to defeat the bad guys) now thinks Mater is also a secret agent car. Because – of course – traveling around the world as the Crew Chief for a race car like Lightning McQueen would be the perfect cover for a secret agent (More to the point, there’s just no way that Mater could actually be as dumb as he seems to be. Which is why McMissile now thinks that this is all an act).

But – of course – when Mater tries to tell his friends from Radiator Springs about how he saved a secret agent car, nobody believes him. Because after all, Lightning McQueen & Co. just know that this little tow truck loves to tell tall tales.

So – from here – the action moves to Italy (where the cars now treat all of the scooters on the streets as if they were gnats or mosquitoes). Where the bad guys – who has also assumed that Mater is now some secret agent undercover – repeatedly attempt to capture and interrogate him. Which makes it difficult for this tow truck to be the best possible Crew Chief he can be for Lightning.

Cars Poster
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

After this leg of the World Grand Prix is complete, it’s off to Paris (Where “Cars 2” concept art revealed that – in this new Pixar film -- the base of the Eiffel Tower would now look like an enormous wire-rimmed tire) and then London. Where – as McQueen races by such legendary landmarks as Big Bentley – Mater must once again join forces with Finn McMissile in order to defeat the bad guys.

So will Lightning McQueen actually win the World Grand Prix? More importantly, will Mater’s friends from Radiator Springs actually believe him when this tow truck tells them all about the espionage-laden adventures that he’s been having?

To get the answers to those questions, you’re going to have to buy a tickets to “Cars 2: World Grand Prix.” Which – thanks to all the prep work that Pixar has been doing lately, getting would-be moviegoers used to the idea that Mater tell tall tales – looks to be a really entertaining film. Which will debut in Disney Digital 3D in the Summer of 2011.

Back to the Future Poster
Copyright 1985 Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved

So what do you folks think? Does the above plot description make it that much more likely that you’ll be headed “Back to” the cinema in “the Future” for some more “Cars”-related fun?

Your thoughts?

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  • Something tells me that the "Cars" franchise isn't done growing yet. I've heard a few ideas floating around...hope they land on one.

  • Sounds like Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo with added awesome. Was not excited for this at all until today, but now I cannot wait. 2011 is going to be a glorious year for Disney.

  • I enjoyed the first Cars, but this plot summary has be sort of worried. It sounds, quite literally, all over the place. I mean, exactly how many racing sequences do they expect people to sit through? How are we supposed to become attached to any new characters or places if the movie keeps changing location.

    I don't know, after Wall-E and Up, something about this just seems uninspired.

  • I already was excited, since I love the original "Cars", but after this article, I'm so much more excited!  Question/thought: So, does one need to have knowledge of the "CarToons" in order to fully 'get' "Cars 2"?  I haven't been following those shorts, but I have read about them.  I don't necessarily think that we'll have to know exactly what adventures Mater had in those shorts, but at the same time, based on this article, it seems like we'll have to know that Mater lieks to tell those tall tales.  Maybe the beginning of the film will have Mater telling a tall tale or something, to either refresh people's memories of the "CarToons", or for people who didn't watch those.

  • What was all that about Back to the Future?  I love the sequels.

  • Yeah the Back to the Future connection doesn't quite work. I didn't really notice a difference between BF1 & BF 2 & 3. Also The Cartoons isn't the first time that Mater has told tall tales. He told a tall tale in "Mater and the Ghostlight" which was long before Cars 2 was thought of. Plus he mentioned the Ghostlight in the first movie.

  • This isn't TOTALLY out of character for Mater from the first film. Remember Mater always talking about the Ghost Light and he wasn't always the most truthful either.

    I partially agree with lostincrowds. I didn't get the whole Back to the Future thing either. Although I liked part 2, but not part 3.

  • The one thing that I've always thought is that Pixar can pull a good strong story out of anything they put out there. It might not be immediately evident what the point is or how profound the storytelling will weave itself, because to watch the Toy Story 3 adverts, they tend to follow a formulaic way of showing some comedic highlights. But truly, when the heaviness of the scene with Woody and the rest holding hands facing what seemed like certain doom... that moment was powerful and shows that Pixar never shows their full hand.

    I think that there will be more to Cars 2 than what is evident. What still resonates with me from the first Cars movie is the quieter moments of when Route 66 was bypassed while the townies looked on or when Doc told LMQ about being left behind after his big wreck and how he had so much more left in him.

    Moments that don't transcend into overviews of movies or preview tv spots very well. Those are what I love about Pixar's movies. I honestly think the only movie they'd ever done that fell short my own expectations was A Bug's Life. And I think that had Pixar had more clout and had more of an ability to do so, they'd probably have not released A Bug's Life at the same time as Antz.

    They don't want to tread familiar areas as far as story and environment, and I think that will be at the forefront of Cars 2's development.

    I have to believe that everytime I look at the production art from the terminated movie "newt". With "Alpha and Omega", and Blue Sky Studio's "Rio" coming down the pipeline, I think that although it was a heartbreaking decision to cancel it, they had to. Because they want the story and the characters to have a chance to live and grow in the hearts and minds of the people that go to see their movies.

    I'm not worried about Cars 2. Not in the least. :)

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