© 2011 Ray Wong
For more than a decade, Pixar has been enthralling critics and audiences alike. How could they ever do wrong? Well, Cars 2 may just be the answer. Let's hope it's not the beginning of the end.
Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and the residents of Radiator Springs quietly lead their provincial lives until their best friend, superstar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), returns. But before McQueen can settle in and have some private time with girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt), he's invited to the World Grand Prix by Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard). Reluctantly, McQueen takes Mater with him, but he reminds Mater to change the way he acts on the world stage.
Well, Mater being Mater, he acts the same way he does, and the world sees him as just an idiot who embarrasses McQueen everywhere he goes. Little does he know, though, he's soon involved in an international espionage. Turns out MI6 agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are tracking a mysterious group of terrorists trying to sabotage the race. They mistaken Mater for an American spy.
When Mater causes McQueen to lose his first race, Mater leaves to return to Radiator Springs, but instead McMissile and Shiftwell take him along to track down the terrorists. They realize the terrorists are using a camera gun to blow up race cars in order to sabotage Sir Axelrod and his alternative fuel. When McMissile and Shiftwell are disabled, Mater has to rise to the occasion to help stop the terrorists from destroying the race and killing his best friend McQueen.
Larry the Cable Guy (Witless Protection) returns as the voice of lovable Mater. Larry is fine as a sidekick, and the character of Mater has some endearing qualities despite his irritating idiocy. Stupidity is funny up to a point, but when your main character is stupid, it gets old fast. Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris) is more at ease this time as McQueen. He's smooth, confident and witty. Unfortunately, he stays in the backseat (pun intended) most of the time.
A slew of new characters are introduced in this sequel. Michael Caine (The Dark Knight) is smart and charming as Agent McMissile, which has some of the funnest scenes in the movie. Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island) is cool and fun as Agent Shiftwell. These two are definitely the most memorable characters. John Turturro (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) is effectively cocky as McQueen's chief rival Francesco Bernoulli. Eddie Izzard (Across the Universe) has a small but pivotal role as Sir Axelrod. And Vanessa Redgrave (Letters to Juliet) lends her sultry voice as the Queen of England.
Some of the cast of the original return in small, supporting role (since much of the story happens outside of Radiator Springs): Bonnie Hunt (Toy Story 3) as McQueen's understanding and perfect girlfriend Sally, Tony Shalhoub (How Do You Know?) as Luigi, and John Ratzenberger (Toy Story 3) as Mack.
Cars 2 is written and directed by John Lasseter (together with Brad Lewis, Ben Queen and Ben Fogelman), and you would think it would be very good. Well, it is very entertaining, for sure. There's never really a dull moment, and this should keep the little boys very happy. But compared to other Pixar films, this is seriously lacking in character development, story, and that je ne sais quoi in almost every Pixar movie including the original Cars. In fact, the original was considered one of the weakest films from Pixar and I was surprised to learn that they were making a sequel. At least the first one has a soul that is anchored in Radiator Springs (with a nice nostalgic theme) with a cast of wonderful characters, and Wilson did a good job playing the reluctant hero. This one? Not so much.
Mater is a funny sidekick, but as the hero, he's just not really that good. The plot is convoluted, what with the James Bond-esque plot and action sequences. When did this become Spy Kids for cars? Most of all, except for a few characters such as McMissile and Shiftwell, we don't care about any of them. There is a lot of noise, action, and explosions (especially for a family film -- in comparison, The Incredibles, Pixar's most action-packed feature before Cars 2, has far less violence). It's very busy, and sometimes you don't even know what's going on.
Lasseter has said that Cars was his favorite because of his love for cars, but it seems that his ego is really getting in the way. Cars 2 is bloated, convoluted, irrelevant without memorable characters and a heart and soul in the middle. Yes, it's entertaining, fast-paced, and the animation is, as usual, top-notch. But it lacks the signature elements of a Pixar production. Seriously, if you don't pay attention, you may actually think this is made by Dreamworks. Are Pixar trying to pander to the Shrek audiences? They really don't need to. Let's hope there is no Cars 3 in the works.
Stars: Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Bonnie Hunt
Directors: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Writers: Ben Queen, John Lasseter, Ben Fogelman
Distributor: Pixar/Walt Disney
MPAA Rating: G for action and cartoon violence
Running Time: 112 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Animation – 9
Editing – 8
Production – 9
Total – 7.0 out of 10