Rating: 3 stars out of 5
The first Cars movie was one of Pixar’s least financially successful movies at the box-office, but it was a marketing coup as the vehicles of the movie scored big in the merchandising sweepstakes, earning an estimated US$12 billion for the studio. (Sorry insects from A Bug’s Life; kids are going to choose Lightning McQueen every time)
In fact, it’s done well enough that Pixar, the studio that never can seem to do any wrong, has produced a sequel to the film, and the cynical would suggest it’s so that Disney and Pixar can continue to get mileage out of the brand, while reintroducing a new set of toys to further grab money out of parent’s wallets.
The nostalgia tinged cast to the first film has been removed and spray painted with a sleeker gloss. Rusty, buck-toothed Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) is upgraded to main cast status, and grabs the spotlight from the genial but slightly dull Lightning McQueen, which is kind of like giving Jar Jar Binks his own movie.
Mater doesn’t reach that level of annoyance, but ten minutes of his overly done country bumpkin accent and you’ve probably had enough. Thankfully, there are some saving graces, such as the introduction of Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer as sleek new vehicles to the cast and a story tinged with espionage.
The story involves Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) on a globe trotting journey. Leaving their rusty town of Radiator Springs, McQueen competes in the World Grand Prix, which is sponsored by an alternative fuel businessman.
Mater gets embroiled in some espionage high jinks, as a group of badly built cars try to sabotage the races. The British agents Finn McMissile (Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Mortimer) think he is an American secret agent.
So there’s, as expected, a lot of car races and car chases, with a surprising amount of gunplay to go along with it.
There’s great inventiveness in some of the scenes, such as the anime-influenced world of Tokyo, and the first main action sequence where McMissile penetrates an oil rig using all kinds of nifty contraptions, like a Bond car achieving self-attainment while doing away with the martini-drinking driver.
John Lasseter co-directs the movie, indulging his love for all things cars. There’s puns and one-liners to help the movie keep from stalling, but Mater’s presence does get trying, even if the filmmakers try to imbibe more into his role.
The usual messages of the power of friendship and coming to like yourself are shoved into your face, particularly after McQueen asks Mater to leave after one too many disturbances.
Cars 2 really runs aground though, when it gives Mater so much screen time that his presence becomes like a grinding noise coming from a car engine. It still delivers in terms of crisp, sparkling visuals, but with this sequel, Pixar has really taken quite a few wrong turns.