Directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis
Screenplay by Ben Queen, story by John Lasseter
Larry the Cable Guy as Mater (voice)
Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen (voice)
Michael Caine as Finn McMissile (voice)
Emily Mortimer as Holley Shiftwell (voice)
Eddie Izzard as Sir Miles Axlerod (voice)
John Turturro as Francesco Bernoulli
How long is Cars 2? 113 minutes
What is Cars 2 rated? G
Pixar’s latest could use a serious tune-up.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Pixar Studios, which has whipped out some of the best animated pictures in history. The studio has a solid record with sequels: last year’s Toy Story 3 won the Best Animated Feature Oscar with good reason. But 2006’s Cars, the tale of egotistical rookie racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and the wacky inhabitants of Radiator Springs, was not unanimously beloved. Five years later the sequel proves to be an even sillier, less heartwarming flick with a meandering story that’s been told a million times before.
Cars 2 brings four-time Piston Cup winner Lightning McQueen back to Radiator Springs, where bumbling tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) waits patiently. Mater’s well-intentioned stupidity gets Lightning thrown into the World Grand Prix, a race financed by Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), a former oil baron turned alternative fuel proponent. Lightning takes Mater along for the ride, and hapless Mater ends up blundering through an international spy conspiracy with the help of Agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Come on, guys, this has been done before! Spies Like Us, The Man Who Knew Too Little, and Top Secret! did it better.
Toy Story 3 was a real pleasure to watch because Pixar brought old material into the future with utter aplomb; 21st century technology slides right in with The Farmer Says and a talking cowboy toy. With references to alternative fuel and hybridization, Cars 2 strives for this modernization and doesn’t really succeed. The “lemons,” the biggest car failures in history, including Hugos, Pacers, and Gremlins, rally against new technology with the help of a clandestine financier and a contrived plot involving electromagnetic pulses. The movie’s “supervillain” isn’t so secret to anyone who’s paid attention to Eddie Izzard’s peculiar and amazing variety of stand-up, and the conspiracy theory is plainly flimsy.
The reason Pixar has revolutionized animation is that the studio’s films speak to all ages, and even if the little ones don’t understand the underlying messages, they’re there for the taking. Up and the Toy Story movies are about growing up versus growing old; WALL-E is a cautionary tale of what we’re actually doing to our planet; Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are about family strife. The first Cars movie was effective (and affecting) because it told a very simple truth about American culture: we’re sacrificing beauty, history, and tradition in favor of the fastest, finest new thing. Radiator Springs turned into a virtual ghost town when the interstate zoomed in next door, and Hudson Hornet (Paul Newman) fell by the wayside when newer, shinier racecars sped up from behind. This is gloomy, true phenomenon, and that movie handled it deftly while remaining cute and fun. The second Cars movie is an action flick – which is not problematic in itself, as there are plenty of great action movies about cars – but this one struggles to make a point about the importance of friendship and being yourself and doesn’t quite hit the mark. Writer Ben Queen, who penned the ill-fated TV series “Drive,” doesn’t have the chops to make it work.
You probably never thought you’d see Michael Caine working opposite Larry the Cable Guy – and it probably should’ve stayed that way. The first thing you should consider before seeing Cars 2 is that, while the first one was an ensemble comedy that focused on Lightning McQueen and featured the great Paul Newman, this new flick is a straight-up Larry the Cable Guy movie. If you find the camo-clad comedian to be the best thing to hit the stage since Bill Cosby (and the people next to me in the theater certainly did), you’ll probably love it. If you find redneck humor, fart jokes, and slight xenophobia obnoxious, well, you might want to avoid this one.
If there’s one thing Pixar always does right, it’s the animation itself. Cars 2 is no WALL-E or Up, but Rome, To(w)kyo, and London are beautifully rendered. In the animators’ capable hands, the cars themselves are as shiny as you’d want, the massive cogs within Big Ben are lovely to behold, and the roiling sea looks so real you might do a double-take. But the breathtaking land- and seascapes aren’t enough to hold the insubstantial story together.
Pixar has hardly made a misstep in the past, and Cars 2 isn’t a terrible movie. It’s just not up to par with the studio’s other offerings. Hollywood is in a period of creative bankruptcy and hopefully Pixar will return to bucking that trend in the future. Cars 2 will certainly amuse the kids and Larry the Cable Guy fans. But it’s unfortunate that the most thrilling part of the theater experience for this reviewer was the knowledge that Disney will be re-releasing The Lion King in 3D in the fall, and that Robert Rodriguez’s next Spy Kids movie will feature a fourth dimension (“Aromascope,” whatever that is).