Release Date (UK) – 22nd July 2011
Certificate (UK) – U
Runtime -106 minutes
Director – John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Country – USA
Starring – Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard
Cars 2, appropriately if not imaginatively titled for the 2006 sequel to Cars, is the latest offering from animation powerhouse Pixar. Studio of favourites including Up (2009), Finding Nemo (2003), and Toy Story (1995), the original Cars left some audiences cold for it’s lack of an emotional core and thin plot. So, five years later, can Cars 2 rev up into the hearts of fans?
We start off back in Radiator Springs, where Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is returning home to his friends, not least best pal Mater (Cable Guy). But after Mater inadvertently promises arch-rival Francesco Bernoulli (Turturro) that McQueen will take part in the World Championships live on TV, it’s back on the road, and this time Mater is coming too. Cars 2 swaps Route 66 nostalgic Americana with international spy-flick espionage in an attempt to inject some excitement into some fairly stereotypical characters. The road to success is never easy, however, as it transpires that some enigmatic big bad is sabotaging the races. With McQueen’s head stuck in the game, it falls to Mater to accidentally team up with British spies Finn McMissile (Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Mortimer) to unmask the villain and save the day.
With Mater taking the lead in Cars 2, it’s very easy to have him live out the typical Disney themes. Always be yourself. True friends stick together. You can achieve everything if you try. Good will triumph over evil. As Mater stays true to himself, and sticks around even after McQueen is mean to him, he is swept up in the 007-style espionage, giving him the opportunity to discover new talents. The big revelation was supposed to be that he was good enough just the way he was, but he never actually did anything. It’s all whirling around him, and he has no control over how anything turns out, so any potential character development is empty.
It is a risk to put the comic relief as the lead character, and one that Cars 2 doesn’t quite pull off. Mater doesn’t know what’s going on around him, and McQueen is oblivious to that whole plot, as well as being unaware that he’s been relegated to subplot. During the climax, it is inconvenient to have to catch McQueen up with the story, although perhaps some of the younger watchers benefit from the recap. The action scenes are well executed, although the addition of 3D is superfluous and the opening sequence was fairly impressive, with a balance of tension, surprise and innovation in the anthropomorphic vehicles. The quality of the animation is as high as you would expect from Pixar: everything is shiny and brightly coloured, definitely able to capture the attention of it’s intended demographic, but for the parents or older siblings, it’s lacking in substance. There are no emotional punches like we’ve come to expect from Pixar, no real lessons learned; Cars 2 ends right back where it started.
Oddly, it’s the supporting characters that have the most appeal. Bernoulli gets the wittiest lines, and to see him muscling with McQueen is the most enjoyable dialogue in the film. Larry the Cable Guy’s humour isn’t for everyone, and he can’t quite lift this one-note character off the page. Similarly, Wilson couldn’t add anything more to McQueen either; he’s a pretty-boy jock race car who has already got the trophies and the girl, so is just racing for his vanity.
Cars was widely regarded as the weakest of all the Pixar films, and Cars 2 unfortunately isn’t much more than a sequel to the weakest of all the Pixar films. It had a lot to live up to, and didn’t quite make it. In comparison to the Pixar alumni, Cars 2 is shiny and shallow; it never gets above second gear and seems like a polished vehicle for selling lucrative merchandise. Re-watch the classics on DVD instead.