As you can imagine, Cars 2 is a sequel to 2006’s Cars, which was about cars (hint: so is this one). This time, hot-shot racecar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) sets out to win the first ever World Grand Prix. He brings along his redneck “best friend” Tow Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) to see the world with him (okay, it’s only Japan, Italy, and Britain, but who’s counting?) and as we can imagine the tow truck causes McQueen a significant amount of embarrassment around the other more-cultured racecars. Through a complex series of events, Mater winds up aiding two British intelligence agents in their investigation of a mysterious alternative fuel called Allinol. This is surprisingly a bit of an anti-Tree Hugger movie. The alternative fuel is bad, but good ol’ gasoline saves the day. It’s about time someone counteracted Avatar.
The picture looks great. The production design is impeccable, featuring bright colors and Sherlockian attention to detail typical for a Pixar movie. The cars are sleek and cool and the Eurasian world they inhabit is like a hybrid of The Majestic and Blade Runner. And I have to say, Mater steels the show – always offering liberal doses of innocent redneck humor. The Bond-like save-the-world plot is amusing, and hearing such names as Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell is fun for a time. However, something is missing in Cars 2. The film succeeds only sporadically and many of the so-called “jokes” fall flat. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really excellent and funny scenes in the picture, but not nearly enough. Watching this movie is like watching a heart-monitor: it peaks and then it valleys and then it peaks a little and peaks a lot and then valleys again. The spy story is funny as long Mater keeps messing it up, but watching animated cars sprout wings and grow machine guns doesn’t work as much as you might think.
On the race track, cars using the new fuel begin to mysteriously combust. This is because of a plot by the bad guys to give alternative fuel a bad name. To make a long story short, it all comes down to revenge. Even cars hold grudges. I will say that the scenes in which Mater continually flubs up the mission only to help it are pretty amusing. Like Forrest Gump, his “average intelligence” does him more good than harm. And only a supercilious curmudgeon wouldn’t laugh when Mater encounters an obstreperous Japanese restroom and car wash. Still, at some point the joke runs thin. The required egomaniacal former champion racecar is neither funny nor obnoxious as all egomaniacal racecars should be. He’s really just pompous and mean-spirited.
Cars 2 seems to live in the inferior DreamWorks world of animation. It’s not a bad movie, just not nearly up to the standards of previous Pixar films. I anticipate it won’t be so highly honored at the Academy Awards this year and will probably be forgotten with A Bug’s Life, the only other Pixar misfire. I’m sure little children will love it to death. Adults will probably think “Amusing and harmless, but where are the Godfather references.” I suppose after ten years of great movies, Pixar can be let to slide a little for this one, but they hadn’t better do it again. Who knows, maybe we won’t have to suffer through Cars 3.
Walt Disney Pictures Presents a Pixar Animation Studios Film
Cast: voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Thomas Kretschmann, Franco Nero.
Directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis.