Sequel trades up to a newer, jazzier, more explosion-filled model
Directed by John Lasseter & Brad Lewis
Cast: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine
Confessionally speaking, Cars is my least favorite Pixar film. Rest easy, fans, it’s faint damnation. The worst CG-animated toon from Pixar is better than the best CG-animated toon from somebody else. (What’s the competition? Shrek? Kung Fu Panda? Not even close.) And yet, there’s something about Cars that’s always thrown me off. Perhaps it’s simply that anthropomorphic cars aren’t as cuddly as toys or furry monsters or old people. Perhaps it’s the little conceptual questions that nag at the back of my brain. Where are all the people? If there are no people, why do the cars have doors? Why are the mountains shaped like cars? Why would cars need both gas stations and restaurants? Or bathrooms, for crying out loud? Why do ice cream trucks exist at all? Is this what became of the world after the end of Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive? Is anybody else freaked out over the idea that talking cars are riding around inside talking trains, trucks and airplanes? What kind of God would allow such blasphemy? ... Eh, maybe I’m just overthinking things. As a 4-year-old girl in the aisle behind me sagely observed a good 20 minutes into the screening of Cars 2, “The cars talk!” I guess that’s logic enough.
It’s been five years since Cars came out. Not a lot has changed in the bucolic Southwestern town of Radiator Springs. Except that beloved old race car Doc Hudson has expired alongside voice actor Paul Newman. (Wait. Cars can die? How is that ... never mind. The cars talk!) Whereas Cars was a sweetly nostalgic trip out of today’s fast lane and into the bygone era of small-town, roadside Americana, Cars 2 is a globe-hopping superspy action/adventure that combines James Bond, The Fast and the Furious and Thomas the Tank Engine. So much for the simple life.
The plot gets rolling by introducing us to Finn McMissile (effortlessly voiced by Michael Caine), a dashing British spy car who’s just uncovered some dastardly, world-threatening plot involving a secret oil-drilling operation. Somehow, this ties in to a giant around-the-world race sponsored by billionaire SUV Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard). Axlerod has developed an all-natural biodiesel which he believes will replace traditional fossil fuels, and he’s put together this all-star race to prove it. Lured into this about-to-be-sabotaged race, of course, is our four-wheeled hero Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson).
Against his better judgment, Lightning brings his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) along with him to the race’s first leg in Tokyo. There, the annoying and frequently moronic tow truck embarrasses his pal by acting annoying and frequently moronic. This sets up the film’s ham-handed (ham-tired?) moral about loving your friends just the way they are. It also creates a temporary break-up between Mater and Lightning, allowing the redneck truck to wander off, meet up with Finn McMissile and get involved in a wacky “mixed-up identity” spy caper.
All the residents of Radiator Springs pop by for cameos (Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub and John Ratzenberger among them), but they’re mostly left in the dust as the film spends the majority of its time with Mater and his bumbling spy caper. It’s certainly jazzy enough to keep kids’ eyes riveted to the screen for at least 100 of the film’s 113 minutes. But in weaving together so many explosion-filled plotlines, the sequel negates a lot of the easygoing charm of the original. Ah well, that’s what happens when you trade up to a newer model.
The animation is, of course, exemplary. The world is so detailed in its rendering, you might need more than one viewing just to take in all the sights. The animators have a particularly good time dressing up neon-lit Tokyo, for example. As a result of all this eye-popping detail, the 3D looks quite good and may actually be worth the added price. Plus, there are plenty of clever jokes for the adults as well as the kids. (You’ve got to appreciate a movie about talking cars in which the villains are AMC Pacers and Gremlins.)
All in all, Cars 2 is a fun-to-watch summer flick. By piling on plotlines and characters, the filmmakers spoil a bit of the simplicity of the original. So, no, not the best Pixar film ever. But better than Mars Needs Moms by a good long shot.