Let me start this review off with a dash of honesty before we get started. I think the first Cars film is the weakest of the 12 films Pixar has pumped out over the last 16 years. I liked the film overall, as I do with most of what that studio releases, but I just didn’t connect with it as I assumed I would. The feeling of days gone by doesn’t connect all that well with my generation. Sure, I spent most summers cramped in an RV with my two sisters traveling around the States and taking in the views. A fact I hated when I was younger but thank my parents for now as often as I can. So I figured the Route 66 theme would be a real treat to see. The film, like all Pixar films, is beautiful to watch, but I couldn’t get over the idea of a world populated by talking cars. Sure, the film starts off with a bang at that insanely cool Nascar race, but the second Lightning jumps over a crashed car with his tongue out, I was gone.
Call me a scrooge but I’ve already done bugs, toys and monsters. Also keep in mind that I was coming off the high of Pixar’s previous film, The Incredibles which truly lived up to its name. Something about visiting another world of anthropomorphized characters in Cars wasn’t something I was ready to do again. So when I heard Pixar was working on Cars 2 I was all set to let that film be the first one I would be skipping.
John Lasseter doesn’t like sequels, a fact he’s been very open about. So on the verge of a 3rd Toy Story film (Toy Story being my all-time favorite), Pixar announced a sequel to my least favorite of their films. I was already talking about how Pixar had lost its touch and they didn’t have any new stories to tell and they were scrapping projects (Newt) and DreamWorks was churning out winners. It all looked pretty awful for a moment. All this negativity had me believing Cars 2 would be the end of the streak for Pixar. I could not have been more wrong and proves that I should never doubt Lasseter and his team of creative genius.
Besides this film being tonally very different from the first, which helps for me, it’s an incredibly enjoyable film on its own merits. Under the hood of the film is still the relationship between Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and Lightning (Owen Wilson) that’s very stock when it comes to these types of films. However, everything else on the surface is totally custom. Cars 2 is a spy caper wrapped up in shiny Pixar skin. Simply put, Cars 2 is the best action film I’ve seen all year and delivered in a package only Pixar can.
Cars 2 starts out with a very James Bond like action sequence. We are immediately introduced to our newest character Finn McMissle (Voiced by the great Michael Caine) as he is in full spy mode investigating this creepy oil rig in the middle of the ocean. This scene sets the tone for the entire film. It’s beautiful and full of action and I almost forgot that cars were talking. When we finally meet back up with the old gang at Radiator Springs, which provides the only breath you’ll get in the film, we are given a nice touching tribute, which provides dual services to both Doc Hudson and the man who voiced the character, Paul Newman. The short time we spend in Radiator Springs is all that remains of the first film. We are swept away as Cars 2 successfully navigates two different and sweeping storylines.
Our first story involves Lightning McQueen in his attempt to prove he is the fastest car in the newly created “World Grand Prix”. Cars from all over the world are entered into a three-race series that takes them to Tokyo, Porto Corsa and London. The real race, however, is between McQueen and a Formula-1 car, voiced by the great John Turturro, named Francesco Bernoulli, a character more boisterous then Jean Girard from Talladega Nights. Their races are elaborate and the settings are beautiful in a way that you can only truly appreciate in 3D. However, all this is happening in the background, the real story rests on the shoulders of the witless tow-truck Mater.
In a conventional way, Mater is mistaken as an American spy and is swept up into this world of espionage and action. What happens after is quite unconventional in Pixar films. The film has strong political themes and actually depicts a lot of violence, including the death of several characters, something we haven’t seen on screen since The Incredibles. The World Grand Prix is created by a wealthy alternative fuel car by the name of Miles Axelrod (voice by Eddie Izzard). He has created the alternative fuel Allinol he believes will reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and requires that all cars in the race use this as proof. However, there is someone behind the curtain that isn’t too fond of that idea. It’s up to Mater, who is forced to team up with Field Agent Finn and desk jockey Agent Holley Shiftwell, (Voiced by Emily Mortimer) to find the mastermind behind all the evil doings. Both of these new characters add so much to the film I can only hope they return to do more in future installments.
The film is Mater centric, so if you didn’t like him in the first one, you may have a hard time with the amount of screen time he gets. If you are one of those people though let me start by saying you’re not alone. Mater was my least favorite character in the first film, but there is something about his journey that I really like. With the addition of Holley Shiftwell, we get to see two of these characters take very similar journeys alongside each other and eventually towards each other. I also think the emergency brake-180 burnout this film does helps quell anything you may have disliked in the first. Sure there are some plot devices that seem to make no sense whatsoever and some obvious humor that seems a bit over the top for Pixar. But overall this film brings back memorable characters in a totally new adventure that leaves the original in the dust.
I think Cars 2 is the standout film thus far in a very hectic summer movie season. With the addition of great new characters and amazing locations you’ll also want to see it in 3D. I was fortunate enough to see the film at its world premiere so the bulbs were amped up and the glasses didn’t darken the image all that much. But I mention being at the World Premiere, thanks to Disney, only to stress the point that I would gladly pay to see this film again. At the end of the day isn’t that what we moviegoers expect from our films, to be worth every penny?
“Cars 2” opens in the US on the June 24, 2011 an in the UK on the 22nd of July.