Look no further than the Toy Story short and the extended The Lion King re-release trailer that precede Cars 2 for reasons why this latest Pixar film just doesn’t cut it. The former two films have true character development, well-written, well-told stories, and spectacular animation. Cars 2 only has the animation. Perhaps Pixar has been overdue for a true letdown, and this is their first, but this is a wholly unnecessary, disposable, and lazy sequel to what was already the weakest film in their canon.
This time around Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and Mater (voice by Larry the Cable Guy) are globetrotting to compete in the World Grand Prix. It’s not long before Mater embarrasses McQueen, and he’s banished from the pit crew. Soon Mater finds himself caught up in an international espionage situation, led by Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine), regarding the fuels the cars are using for the races.
Did no one, at any point, simply ask, “do we really want Larry the Cable Guy carrying this movie?” Mater has rocketed from fourth credit in 2006’s film to first here, and it’s not for nothing. Maybe it’s because he’s the only Cars character with anything resembling a personality, but he’s by far the fan favorite. He grates very fast here with a script loaded down with car puns (Brent Mustangberger? Really?) and disjointed transitions between the races and spy subplots. That the screenwriters have given the character the entire film is stupefying. Every character other than Lightning and Mater simply serve as bookends to the brief Radiator Springs scenes.
Chances are that the kids will be bored by the spy stuff (as if they even know the difference between renewable and fossil fuels) and thrilled by the races, which do look stunning. Pixar continues to break new ground with each release and Cars is dazzling to look it, even when dimmed by 3D glasses. The action is cohesive and fun, and new characters voiced by Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, and John Turturro are a nice occasional diversion from the Mater overload. The film’s big message (“be yourself!”) even seems insincere considering Mater is an ignorant moron and not the character kids should see as a role model.
That this film was even made is a testament to the cash flow it generates. Pixar knew this didn’t even have to be that good to bring in some serious coin, and they’ll be proved right. Considering the exceptional body of work they have produced over the past fifteen years, it’s tempting to give them a pass and hope that their next feature, Brave, gets back to the storytelling roots we all know and love. I let it slide with the first film, but not here. The faith in Pixar undoubtedly remains, however.
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Length: 113 Minutes
Theatrical Release: June 24, 2011
Directed by: John Lasseter & Brad Lewis
Written by: Ben Queen. Story by John Lasseter & Brad Lewis & Dan Fogelman.
Cast: Larry the Cable Guy (voice), Owen Wilson (voice), Michael Caine (voice), Emily Mortimer (voice), Eddie Izzard (voice)