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Book Review: The Art of Cars 2

July 7, 2011

Released May 2011

Page count: 160 pages

Size: 11” x 9”

The Art of Cars 2

By Ben Queen with Karen Paik

Foreword by John Lasseter

Published by Chronicle Books

Distributed by Raincoast (Canada)


The Art of Cars 2 Book Review By Erin V.

It’s been almost two weeks since I posted my review of Cars 2, a film that I felt was one of the best of the year, an opinion that could be considered in the minority.  Initially, I was going to post a review for this book sooner, but I found myself wanting to go through it carefully, and decided to give it some time to collect my thoughts on it.

You’d be hard-pressed to not at least appreciate the art within The Art of Cars 2 – the attention to detail and colour palettes are stunning.  The first thing noticeable for many with this second installment, is the change of pace.  One of the things to match this style, is that the virtual ‘camera work’ in the first film was shot more like a Western, whereas here, they went ‘travelogue’ style.  This is a world of cars, boats, trains, planes, etc.  The movie opens in the middle of the ocean where you’d least expect it, before going over to Radiator Springs – and I thought it worked brilliantly.  John Lasseter’s quote on page 25 sums it up for me: “As a storyteller, you’re promising that these two worlds – the world you’re familiar with and the world you’re not familiar with – are going to collide somehow.  And as a moviegoer, if I see that, it’s like, ‘I’m in.’”

The characters are also so well designed.  When they move around quickly, you don’t realize how well each one is planned – with not only what they can do, but what they can’t.  The two new main characters are the spy cars.  At first, we read that Finn McMissile seemed like he could do too much, so he was grounded just enough to make him believable as a spy from the late ‘60’s, especially when contrasted with the hi-tech Holley Shiftwell.  American spy Rod ‘Torque’ Redline, combines interesting elements of the two.  Reading about the ‘lemons’ Professor Zündapp, Acer, and Grem is fun too.

Along with the technicals, the book also goes on to talk about the story, including what’s at its heart.  As John Lasseter says, “You can’t have McQueen unlearn everything he learned in the first film,” that’s one of the reasons it made sense to switch focus and take Mater’s side for a while.  Let him have the character arc.  While the first film threw McQueen into a situation completely different from his own fast-paced life, this one throws Mater into one so different from his own quieter lifestyle, that he doesn’t know which way to turn at first.  The film centres on their friendship, and how it is tried – as friendships often are – when life takes a faster turn.  We become busy, and maybe embarrassed at how people see us, the more status is at stake.

In this book, we also get to focus a bit on the locations – which are all stunning.  As described here by producer Denise Ream, this is a film of ‘one-offs’ – with most sets used only once.  But each one is still so carefully built with time and energy – and such huge (and strangely authentic) sets they are!  Research trips allowed the art teams to focus on everything from what the street signs, and actual materials look like up close, to the lighting/conditions in different locations – check out the wet sheen in the tarmac scene, or the way the weather and air gives you a ‘feel’ for each country as an example.  Landmarks make places recognizable for those around the world, but it’s the details that really connect a film to locals who know when it’s gotten right.  And as interesting as it is to read about how they ‘car-ified’ different places, I also liked seeing how they developed the fictional Porto Corsa as a sort of love letter to the Italian Riviera and European racing.

In terms of location and story, a fascinating thing to read is what was changed throughout the early development – something all films go through.  Just as Lotso in TS3 was an original concept for the first Toy Story, here a location researched but never used for Ratatouille, became the set for the black-market scene.  As head of story Nate Stanton says, “really good ideas will stick around forever.”  There is actually also a specific section here called ‘Roads Not Taken,’ that emphasizes some earlier locations as well as plots/characters, including a different (quite cool-looking) villain named ‘Zil,’ as well as a double agent.

There were initially going to be two more racing sequences – one in Germany’s Black Forest, and another through France.  Some of the elements from each segments found their way into other parts of the film.  One sequence in particular that wasn’t used was in Prague, back when they were experimenting with Zil as the villain.  For those who’ve seen the film, it will be enough for me to say that it was similar to the ‘torture scene.’  If you pick up the book, flip to pages 126-127, and check it out – it is an amazingly dark, yet brilliant spy film type sequence.

Some may say that this is just a cheap copy of spy films, but in my opinion, with a chase sequence ‘inspired by French Connection’, and a ‘use of locations and character inspired by Hitchcock’, it is a clever throwback.  Bringing together all these elements ‘like a high-performance engine,’ Dave Mullins says, “Cars 2 is the Cars world at its most mature.”  And I loved that.

I still have not revisited the film in theatres, although I still plan to.  But reading this book, to me, just verifies how I felt about Cars 2 – it is a film made with intricate detail, and love from all those involved.  Although I’ve heard this film hailed by some as nothing but a studio marketing gimmick, I believe it’s so much more than that.  Sure, you could say the book has a bias as it is written by screenwriter Ben Queen, but that is one of the reasons I loved it.  This is a testament to what those deeply involved with the film see the film as, and it is exactly what I saw on screen.  I’ve said it before – I loved this film, but love it or hate it, I think what they were trying to convey came through.  To anyone sure on their thoughts or not, this book is worth a read from cover to cover.


To find out more about the The Art of Cars 2, or other books, visit Raincoast’s website here.  

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