Film Friday: ‘Cars 2’ and ‘Bad Teacher’

by W. Andrew Powell
A scene from Pixar's Cars 2

Opening this weekend in theatres across the country: Owen Wilson voices the speedy Lightning McQueen once more in Pixar’s latest sequel, Cars 2; and Cameron Diaz plays a down and dirty teacher in the comedy Bad Teacher.

Cars 2
Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, John Turturro, Eddie Izzard, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
Director: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis

Pixar has been a shining example of how a film studio should work, painstakingly producing moving and groundbreaking animated films, but it unfortunately was only a matter of time before something went off course and that something would be called Cars 2.

It should be noted that I have little doubt that Cars 2 will do well in theatres, and will please many families, but up until now Pixar has been more concerned with great writing and appealing storylines. By contrast, the concept of a sequel rarely has anything to do with wanting to tell great stories. Sequels are sometimes fun and entertaining, but aside from Pixar’s own Toy Story films, they rarely are anything more than fun cash grabs aimed at turning film properties into franchises.

Catching up with racecar Lightning McQueen and his friend Mater, voiced once again by Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy, respectively, Cars 2 is set a short time after the first film as McQueen heads off to race in the first-ever World Grand Prix, which will find the fastest car in the world. Meanwhile, Mater has gotten himself into the world of espionage, by mistake of course, and doesn’t know if he should be helping McQueen win his race or assisting British spy car Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine, and his spy assistant, Holley Shiftwell, voiced by Emily Mortimer.

Co-starring John Turturro as race car Francesco Bernoulli and Eddie Izzard as Miles Axlerod, Cars 2 has the right cast and team behind it, including co-directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis.

While I don’t have enough inside knowledge to bet on anything specific here, the problem is that Pixar chose to spin a sequel off from their weakest film to date, and chances are high that they did it because Disney wanted to sell more Cars toys.

On the positive side of the scale, even when Pixar is running on empty in terms of storytelling and filmmaking, as with the first Cars, the company still outshines the animated competition, but critics have been ranting against the film, which many say is just not good enough to be called a Pixar film.

“It’s sweet-spirited, visually delightful (if aurally cacophonous),” wrote Dana Stevens for Slate, “and it will make for a pleasant enough family afternoon at the movies. But we’ve come to expect so much more than mere pleasantness from Pixar that Cars 2 feels almost like a betrayal.”

Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic wrote fairly positively about Cars 2, but also commented in his review, “It’s sometimes funny, often silly but never really transcendent, though the same could probably be said of the original, as well.”

Bad Teacher
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, John Michael Higgins, Molly Shannon, Lucy Punch
Director: Jake Kasdan

From two of the writers responsible for the American version of The Office, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, and Walk Hard director Jake Kasdan comes this oddball comedy about the most inappropriate teacher to ever walk the halls of a school as she plans to win over a rich substitute teacher so she can quit her job.

Dumped by her fiancé, Elizabeth, played by Cameron Diaz, will try her best, or maybe you would say her worst, to win over the very handsome Scott, played by Justin Timberlake. She will also have to fight off the advances of the school’s gym teacher, Russell, played by Jason Segel, but her scheming will obviously bring no end of trouble for the other teachers, the kids at the school, and will lead to a lesson even she has to learn in the end.

Bad Teacher co-stars Molly Shannon, and is exactly the dud you would expect after seeing the trailers, but here’s the terrible truth–it’s at least getting better reviews than Pixar’s Cars 2.

Peter Travers wrote for Rolling Stone, “Cameron Diaz’s fem spin on Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa should have added up to raunchy fun. Sadly, it only took about 10 minutes to wipe the smile off my face.”

While John DeFore of the Hollywood Reporter quipped, “Having decided not to risk offending us, it could at least work a little harder to earn our affection.”

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