The original CARS in 2006 is one of Pixar’s weaker efforts. Its box office performance did not nearly match its merchandising sales, with an estimated $5 billion in sales. After merchandising challenges like WALL-E and UP, it’s no surprise that the studio cashed in on this unnecessary sequel.
The first film had the presence of Paul Newman and a small shred of emotional resonance with the potential collapse of small-town America. Those two pluses are missing in CARS 2‘s busy, globe-trotting sequel. Instead, we get an uninteresting spy story revolving around alternative energy sources. The numerous races in exotic locales add nothing to the story. And Mater the Tow Truck (voiced by Larry the Gable Guy) now stars as the weak central character. The humor lacks the wit of earlier Pixar efforts. And if the crowd of children at my screening is any indication, they didn’t find it particularly funny or enjoyable either. So what does a film music fan do as the colorful film spins out of control? Listen to Michael Giacchino‘s energetic score.
With a catchy 8-bar main theme, Giacchino infuses the spy elements of the story (which is most of the film) with an INCREDIBLES/James Bond-like energy. Utilizing a ’60s Hammond organ sound, period percussion riffs, and a raucous, surfing electric guitar, the music provides drama and excitement to the lackluster story elements onscreen. Giacchino uses simple, repeated melodic and rhythmic to create tension.
The down-home “shucks” of Randy Newman’s CARS thankfully only comes into play in Mater’s banjo theme and briefly at the end of the film when the action returns to Radiator Springs. Giacchino masters the Wide World of Sports sound with the majestic fanfares and inspirational harmonies of “Porto Corsa.”
In a film where racing and international intrigue are central to the story, Giacchino’s score rarely rests for a pit stop. He injects what heart and emotion he can, but the film doesn’t give him many opportunities. He wisely stays away from creating Japanese, Italian, and British flavors to the score. Instead, the spy music gives the score a retro energy and feel reminiscent of Nelson Riddle’s excellent work on the 1966 BATMAN. Disposable country ballads and pallid covers pad the rest of the album.
Much like the characters in the film, all the race “tracks” tend to blend into each other. But it doesn’t matter. Giacchino’s music is far more sophisticated, especially in its orchestrations, than the film deserves. The score is a lot of fun and certainly sustained my interest on and off the screen. The film may crash and burn, but Giacchino’s score hums along like a well-oiled machine.