They say the language of cinema is universal. Comedy, Drama, Tragedy, Action – all can be understood the world over, especially when provided in the form of the Hollywood blockbuster.  Recently, I decided to put that theory to the test. In Italy on a lazy Sunday evening, I decided to see what the local Cineplex was showing. To no one’s surprise, the single screen cinema was showing a major US release Cars 2. Two important facts made this a somewhat foolhardily decision – 1) I don’t speak Italian, and 2) Italian cinema doesn’t tend to bother with English subtitles for the occasional visitor. Undeterred, I paid my 7 Euros and bravely ventured in.

Cars 2 sees a return to the curious world of the first film where all modes of transport – Cars, Trains, Planes, etc  are living, talking creatures but have no humans to actually carry. As with the first movie, it’s surprisingly difficult to avoid wondering where all the humans have gone to – have they departed for a better life beyond the stars? Or were they mercilessly hunted into extinction by the children of Skynet? Of course, it’s perfectly possible this film had a full and clear explanation for what happened that I missed due to it being provided to me in Italian, so I’ll have to give them the benefit of doubt for now. As for the plot of the film, well what follows is my understanding of what happens based only on the images and sounds. I will freely admit that I may not being the most reliable source of information on Cars 2. But then, hey, if you’re looking for reliable accurate information, why are you reading JadedEye?

We’re introduced to super spy Finn McMissile, who looks suspiciously like a classic Aston Martin. McMissile is on a top secret mission (I base this on the Bond-style music and secret agent gadgets he sports) to investigate er… something aboard an oil rig out in the ocean.  There’s a German looking micro-car with a monocle which I think is a “mad scientist type”, presumably up to no good. Before McMissile can work out what that is, he is spotted and attacked, fighting off an army of nondescript goon cars in a well made and genuinely exciting action sequence. We then cut back to the stars of the original movie; Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater in the town of Radiator Springs (although I don’t remember such strong Italian accents last time round). McQueen is visiting his old friends when news breaks of a World Grand Prix event on the television. Sponsored by a Land Rover who’s trying to sell his new Bio-fuel; the current favourite for the title is an F1 car – which seems kind of logical to me, given that all the competition are regular sports cars and therefore slower. It appears that the F1 car has some history with McQueen, as his boasting seems to get our stock car hero angry. So, McQueen enters the Grand Prix series with Mater and the rest of the gang in tow. The first race is to be held in Tokyo, which is ample opportunity for a wide range of culture clash jokes; both comparing Eastern customs vs Western ones and spoofs of human concepts moved to this car-centric world. While in Japan, Mater has an argument with McQueen (reason unknown) then gets mixed up with super spy Finn McMissile, his sexy assistant Holley Shiftwell (erm, am I allowed to consider a cartoon car sexy? What about one with an Italian accent?) and a dastardly plot to sabotage both the grand prix series and the new bio fuel.

Watching Cars 2 in a foreign language felt like watching films back when I was a child. In those days I didn’t really care about such things silly things as an engaging plot, interesting rounded characters or well written dialogue; I just waited for the bright colours and cool action to (re)start.  {Alex Comment – Based on your opinion of Sucker Punch, I would suggest nothing much has changed} And since I was never going to catch anything other than character names in the dialogue exchanges of this film I just zoned them out and waited for the exciting stuff and/or physical comedy to start again. And start it did. There are a number of well-staged chase scenes both in the races and with the spies while the number of visual gags is on a par with other Pixar offerings. I got a real “Flintstones” vibe from the film in the way that normal technologies were twisted for this Car-based world. They did this in the first film as well, of course, but the globetrotting plot of the sequel gives the writers much more scope.   There’s a lot of fun to be had seeing cars deal with their own version of airport security or seeing the British police cars, complete with their helmets. The makers have also really gone to town on the locations of the three grand prix shown in the film – Tokyo is a Blade Runner style metropolis bathed in Neon lighting; Italy a grand sweeping country of ancient monuments and exotic super cars. And the famous London skyline is captured perfectly; complete with parliament and millennium wheel. It’s been a while since I’ve played Project Gotham, but I’m fairly certain Pixar have set the race along the same track, marking off all the key monuments of England’s capital city.

With no dialogue that I could follow, I paid a lot more attention to the sound track, so don’t be surprised if it pops up in my Jadie nominations at the turn of the year. It expertly spoofs a number of movie music styles from the aforementioned Bond track in the opening to a classic Godfather-esque piece when in Italy. There’s nothing remotely original about the musical choices, but they give a wonderful sense of time and place and composer Michael Giacchino should be applauded for capturing each location so well. I can’t in good conscience comment on the performances other than to say that everyone spoke very fast. What did surprise me is that Pixar had gone to the effort of rending all the text in the film in the native language, so that news papers, for example were all in Italian. A sterling job when most would have settled for subtitles, but not a lot of help for yours truly.

What surprised me about the film was how much Lightning McQueen is side-lined in favour of Mater. While each of the grand prix races is included, during each one key plot events are happening either to Mater or to McMissile and Shiftwell which the film makers chose to concentrate on. I guess the writing team felt that there’s wasn’t much character growth left for McQueen, so chose to centre on Mater instead, who certainly has some form of personal journey through out the film. Precisely what that journey was and what conclusions he came too were lost on me, so I can’t really comment on how that comes together. Suffice to say, Cars 2 is a fun film, with no long boring dialogue sequences and enough bright colourful cars to keep kids and immature/illiterate film critics happy. I’m certainly keen to re-watch the film in my native language, if only to work out why the hell they went to France during the second act.

JIM

Well, I’m off to read the real plot of the film on Wikipedia. That way, if it doesn’t match mine, I can always “correct” the Wiki page!