Let me get this out of the way first, for those who might not know, I absolutely loved Cars. How much? Enough for the Pixar film to top my Best Movies of 2006 list. I know some who would argue that it the original Cars isn’t among Pixar’s best. They’re wrong. Very, very wrong.
Even though I adore the original, I had a fair amount of misgivings when I heard it was getting a sequel. Face it, the message of the first film was pretty well played out. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) had made a few new friends and learned something about himself during his short stint in Radiator Springs.
Cars 2 is the biggest shift in story of any of the Pixar’s sequels. The simple story about a star finding peace in a small town is replaced with a level of action and adventure that even puts The Incredibles to shame.
Let’s start with the positives. The film looks great. The different locales (including London, Paris, and the Mediterranean) are expertly rendered. I especially loved how the cars glistened in the bright neon streets of Tokyo.
Adventure. Whoa, boy. This one’s got plenty by delivering us a spy story filled with explosions and espionage, with a fair amount of humor thrown in. It’s classic James Bond mixed with North by Northwest staring the main characters of Cars. As bizarre as that sounds, it’s actually quite entertaining. The open sequence alone, centered around Agent Finn McMissile’s (Michael Caine) escape from an oil platform, is worth the price of admission.
The story is actually more about Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) than Lightning McQueen this time around. When the McQueen is chosen to compete in the World Gran Prix, sponsored by an alternative fuel magnate (Eddie Izzard), he takes his best friend along for the ride. It soon becomes apparent that Mater doesn’t fit into the social scene, but what’s less apparent to his best friend is that Mater has inadvertently stumbled into the middle of an active spy mission.
Mistaking him for their American contact, two British spies (Caine, Emily Mortimer) enlist Mater’s help to help find an evil mastermind and derail his nefarious plot which involves the uniting all the lemons of the world to take down alternative energy.
Caine and Mortimer are terrific and help balance the Mater storyline as McQueen concentrates on his European rival Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). Although Turturro is terrific as the egocentric European open wheel racecar, the spy story, even though it centers around Mater, is actually the more entertaining of the pair.
Although the film delivers with style, it sadly doesn’t quite have the heart of the first film. Emotion, other than Mater’s bruised feelings, have been largely pushed to the side in favor of some very awesome (but somewhat empty) action sequences. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but it’s arguably the weakest overall project (with the possible exception of A Bug’s Life) Pixar has produced to date.
Other than Mater and McQueen most of the stars of the first film get the shaft (especially Bonnie Hunt who has little more than a cameo) with far reduced roles this time around. The film does take time to give a nice nod to the recently deceased Paul Newman, but simply recasts George Carlin‘s role without comment. Newman’s passing is acknowledged with such class, I was a little disappointed Carlin’s was completely ignored.
It might not provide the emotional impact of Pixar’s best, but Cars 2 does give us an entertaining summer flick with a nice message for the kids about always being yourself (even if you’re a rusty old tow truck). It’s fun, beautiful to look at, and the whole family should have a good time.