Although Pixar’s track record for quality is legendary, Cars has held the dubious distinction since its 2006 arrival of being the studio’s weakest effort. Talking toys in Toy Story were terrific, talking fish in Finding Nemo were fun, but talking cars somehow didn’t convey the same innocent charm. Cars seemed too insincere, like a marketing exercise engineered to attract Hollywood’s idea of unsophisticated NASCAR fans.
Cars 2 manages to be even more disappointing. If Disney had made good on its threat a few years back to release sequels against Pixar’s wishes, it’s hard to imagine the result could have been any less satisfying than this clunker. Incredibly, both Cars movies were conceived and co-directed by Disney/Pixar Animation head John Lasseter himself.
Owen Wilson has top billing again as the voice of race car Lightning McQueen, but bucktoothed tow truck Tow Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) is the main character this go-round. That’s a red flag from lap one for anyone who found Mater as appealing as 100 miles of bad road in the first movie.
Because Cars 2 takes Mater abroad, the loud lunkhead branches out from good ol’ country boy to ugly American tourist, acting embarrassingly culture-clueless. His heart of gold is supposed to make up for his rusty manners and general lack of smarts, of course.
Mater accompanies McQueen to Japan, Italy, France and England for a series of races intended to promote a new clean-energy fuel.
While Cars was a fish out of water story about McQueen learning to appreciate small-town values, Cars 2 is a surprisingly violent spy caper with lots of gunplay and stuff blowing up. Considering that Woody the cowboy in Toy Story 3 had an empty holster, the amount of ammo expended here is downright shocking for a Pixar flick.
Michael Caine is the voice of British agent Finn McMissile, a gadget-laden sportscar that can climb walls and drive underwater. Emily Mortimer is his assistant Holley Shiftwell. They mistakenly think Mater is a fellow spy, even though his every inept act should convince them otherwise.
While McMissile, Shiftwell and most of the other main characters are not specific real-world cars, two of the bad guys trying to sabotage the races are a Gremlin (Joe Mantegna) and a Pacer (Peter Jacobson). Both of those models were manufactured by the long-gone American Motors Corporation.
Perhaps to protect the delicate sensibilities of currently existing carmakers, there’s not a single Ford Pinto or Chevrolet Vega (to pick two easy examples of automotive awfulness) among the maligned misfits.
Likewise, you won’t spot any famously frustrating “fix-it-again-Tony” Fiats in the lemon gang…but the new Fiat 500 appears elsewhere, in a scene that looks like a product-placement beauty shot. Interesting, no?
Animation-wise, Cars 2 is nearly as showroom pretty as other Pixar movies. But you won’t want to spend much time in this unexpectedly uncomfortable vehicle.