Movie Review: ‘Cars 2′
Disney/Pixar’s 2006 Cars has always been a bit of an oddity compared to all its other Pixar brethren. It’s oft considered by adult fans of the Animation Studio as their least favorite film of the now 25 year old studio’s output. On the flip side kids seem to eat Cars up. The property is a hot merchandise mover selling like hot cakes compared to other Pixar properties. I state this as it seems its the only Pixar property I can consistently find in toy aisles. Thus when a sequel to “Cars” was announced kids rejoiced while older Pixar fans were left scratching their heads. How could it be that the least liked Pixar film to date is getting a sequel when other Pixar properties, (I’m looking right at 2004′s The Incredibles here), seem so much more deserving of a sequel treatment? All I could think was that Pixar was viewing Cars 2 as a bonus lap after the misfire that Cars was.
Most Disney/Pixar films have pretty simple stories if you really boil them down. In Cars it was a tale of self discovery. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, whom returns for the sequel) was a hot shot race car that needed to pump the breaks and receive a dose of humility, which he gets in full in the small town of Radiator Springs. In Cars 2, much like the audience that may have caught the first in theaters five years ago, the story has grown up as well.
This time around Lightning McQueen finds himself being thrown into the World Grand Prix. We learn early on that McQueen leaves his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) behind at home in Radiator Springs while he is out winning Piston Cup after Piston Cup championship. One time fossil fuels man turned alternative fuel SUV Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) has decided to prove to the world that his alternative fuel is better than its fossil counterparts by throwing the World Grand Prix. Said Grand Prix’s aim is to bring all the worlds finest cars together for a series of races using his alternative fuel exclusively. Behind the scenes of the race is a group of “Lemons” think lemon type cars; Pacers, Gremlins and Yugos conspire against the race in a tale that could easily compete with any Bond film. Matter of fact Cars 2 features many elements that would feel more at home in a Bond film than they would a Pixar film. Those comparisons are further drawn into the open as Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) is investigating the lemons’ plan. He is assisted by the young Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) both of whom confuse Mater as their American contact at the Grand Prix’s first race in Japan. After McQueen and Mater have a falling out in Japan Mater finds himself mixed up in the world of international espionage and learns a thing or two about himself in the process.
Cars 2 feels like a more adult film than the first, from its tone and its character relationships to its big budget summer action movie set pieces. I should note that if you’ve not seen the first Cars you’ll be okay here. About the only element of Cars 2 that might not make much sense occurs very early on in a very well handled story element about Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). It’s a nice, subtle tribute to the character as much as I felt the actor and car fanatic who voiced him. For obvious reasons he does not make a return in Cars 2. I have to hand it to Pixar and Cars 2 Directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis for having the class to not recast his character/voice in this film and the way his absence is explained.
As for Cars 2, if this was a mulligan consider this second outing a much better hit. Though that is not to say it ever quite attains the levels of my personal Pixar top three. That’d be WALL-E, UP & Toy Story 3 for the curious. I’m a bit of a gear head not afraid to swap motors in cars and go to the occasional race having grown up around racing and gear heads. Thus when the first Cars was such a let down both the car nut and animation nut in me was let down. This time around however I felt much, much better walking out of the theater. I feel that the broader world of automobiles was represented this time around thanks to the World Grand Prix story line that also gives several real life racing stars including Nascar star Jeff Gordon and F1′s young stand out Lewis Hamilton a chance to make a cameo. As for the espionage element it is also quite fun and keeps the story from staying too one dimensional.
The only gripe I really have for this outing in the Cars world is that at just under 2 hours it feels a little long. That isn’t to say that any of it drags it just feels a little longer than needed. The kids in the theater I saw it in seemed to keep from getting to restless, so judge accordingly if taking the family or a little one to see it.
I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention how much more realistic the animation in these films gets year after year. The opening of the film on the seas approaches photo realistic leaving me doing double takes to see if I was looking at something animated or something real. It’s a good thing they use cars and not humans in the film as eventually I feel the uncanny valley will be crossed in one of these films someday.
For you hardcore Pixar fans the short in front of Cars 2 is a Toy Story Toon, though if you’re hardcore you probably already know that. Contrary to some rumored reports it is the only short that plays in front of Cars 2. The short is titled Hawaiian Vacation and brings back most of the major characters from Toy Story 3. It shows that our Toy Story friends are likely to be around for a long time. It’s lots of fun and all the voice talent from the series has returned. I advise making sure you are in your seat well in advance of show time to catch it.