I am confident in assuming that nearly everybody, children and adults alike, love the films of Pixar. The studio has brought audiences animated masterpieces such as Toy Story (1995), Finding Nemo (2003), Ratatouille (2006), Wall-E (2008) and Up (2009). Everything except for Cars, I guess. While Cars 2 is not a terrible film, actually the animation is stunning, it is unlikely to keep anyone outside of the 8-13 age bracket actively engaged throughout. It is too long and too violent for the tiny tots and unnaturally has very little that will appeal to their parents.
While I am continually surprised and amazed by what the studio produces, it just disappointing to see a film fall well below my usual expectations. Despite how it seems, my opinion of the film is not influenced by placing it in comparison to Pixar's other films. I genuinely consider it to be an average film. Despite its large $200 Million budget, the opening weekend revenue for Cars 2 placed it at the top in the U.S, with the majority of its profits likely to emerge through merchandising. I can only assume that the premise of this sequel was backed by the hot property of Lightning McQueen merchandise and not the desire to further explore this world.
Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), fresh from his fourth Piston Cup victory, returns to Radiator Springs to see his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and girlfriend Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt). During McQueen's stay Mater overhears the announcement of the World Grand Prix of Racing, sponsored by oil tycoon Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) to promote his new renewable fuel, Allinol. Mater, after hearing the Grand Prix favourite Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) taunt McQueen, sparks up a rivalry between the pair, which sees McQueen forced to accept an invitation to compete. With Mater accompanying him, McQueen heads to Japan, with the Grand Prix continuing in Italy and London for the latter rounds.
Running parallel to the Grand Prix is a James Bond-esque espionage plot, which follows Mater's unlikely involvement with British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) in their attempts to foil the evil plans of Professor Zundapp (Thomas Kretcshmann). Zundapp is under orders to sabotage the series of races using an electromagnetic pulse camera, which is designed to ignite the Allinol in the cars. The high abundance of crashes will work to discredit the use of Axelrod's renewable fuel. Following a very exciting opening sequence, which reveals McMissile's narrow escape from an ocean-dwelling oil platform, McMissile and Shiftwell plan a rendezvous with an American agent in Japan. Through a case of mistaken identity, the desired evidence is planted on Mater, who is then formally invited to assist the mission. The action is relentless as the spies find themselves embroiled in a number of intense shootouts and high speed pursuits through the streets of Europe.
In terms of animation, Pixar are still the masters. The visual details are absolutely incredible and the film, in general, is spectacular to look at. The amount of work that has gone into the crisp cinematography, building the exquisite colours, and in the recreations of Japan, Paris and London, is very impressive. It is a pity that the 3D added very little. I was very impressed by the use of 3D in both Up and Toy Story 3, but I didn't really notice the difference here. The race sequences, though competently choreographed, are completely void of the thrills and suspense that existed in Cars, with Mater's espionage mission running parallel, and in most cases adopting the bulk of the screen time. We never see any of the races in their entirety, usually only the beginnings and the insignificant and predictable conclusions. You have to wonder, with the film set around a Grand Prix for racing, why the actual racing is of little importance.
Lightning McQueen certainly takes a step back this time, leaving Mater as the central protagonist. The simple minded McQueen is not particularly likeable, but Owen Wilson's voice performance does give him a certain charm, even if he doesn't come across as the racing idol he is supposed to be. Mater is unquestionably the most annoying Pixar protagonist to date. Originally created to be a supporting caricature to exclusively provide comedy, he has been thrust into the lead role here. It starts out as an amusing 'fish-out-of-water' tale as Mater struggles to adjust to the lifestyle outside of Radiator Springs. But his kooky enthusiasm becomes tough to bear and his naivety and general ineptitude really tests the plausibility of the spy premise. Larry the Cable Guy should only be experienced in small doses. The world of talking cars would be oddly charming if it was inhabited by characters we cared about. None of the other characters introduced in Cars return with significant roles, and the addition of Emily Mortimer certainly did the film no favours. I hope that she never provides her voice for a Pixar film again.
Working more as a spin-off than a sequel, the two opposing but intertwining story lines are quite inconsequential to one another. They are so unevenly presented, that neither feels particularly satisfying, either. McQueen's racing is disengaging to say the least, and Mater quickly becomes irritable in his role as super spy. Cars 2 becomes convoluted in the second half, with the motivations of the villains a little unclear as the screenplay becomes eco-friendly and draws the conflict from the decision to abolish the use of fossil fuels. Numerous car puns are about the only thing that will amuse adults in a film that lacks complex characters and a transcendent narrative. Cars 2 does not match the quality of Hawaiian Vacation, the preceding short film featuring our Toy Story favourites, which is a shame. As expected, Pixar has been easily bettered in 2011. For Pixar fans, this will be a serious disappointment. I would suggest, if you desire an animated film in the cinema, to watch Kung Fu Panda 2 instead.
My Rating: 2 1/2 Stars (C-)