Movie Review: Cars 2

by Trey Hock on June 24, 2011

in Print Reviews

Stupidity wins the day, as Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) gets center stage in Pixar’s latest film, “Cars 2.” This movie takes on big oil and bungled friendships, while the globe-trotting Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) tears up the racing circuit, and Mater finds himself the master of inadvertent espionage.

“Cars 2″ opens with a classic Bond tease. Finn McMissle (Michael Caine), a dashing British secret agent, is investigating an enormous secret oil deposit in the middle of the ocean, where a fellow agent recently went missing. With gadgets galore, Finn scales the oil derrick, and collects information on the shadowy organization running the deep sea oil field before escaping in thrilling secret agent fashion.

Back in Radiator Springs, McQueen has just returned home from his season of racing, but Mater’s loyalty and lack of common sense commit McQueen to one more race. Sir Axelrod’s (Eddie Izzard) invitational race is a global event and will promote his new biofuel, Allinol.

Mater invites himself along, but his inexperience with other cultures embarrasses McQueen. When Mater mistakenly yells the wrong commands into his headset, he costs his friend the race. Exiled from the pit crew, Mater finds himself the focus of an international plot to discredit Allinol.

Pixar’s newest installment seems to capitalize on the toy market frenzy of the original “Cars.” It covers a huge amount of ground, moving quickly out of Radiator Springs and across the globe from Tokyo to Paris, Rome to London.

“Cars 2” fills the screen with an absurd amount of side characters and extras. McQueen has a minor feud with an Italian racecar, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), there is a shadowy organization run by a huge number of classic automobile lemons, we visit the Queen of England, as well as Luigi and Guido’s home in Italy. Each of these character filled asides will no doubt bring a boon when even the most obscure cars get made into tiny metal collectibles, but this inundation of disposable characters did little to bolster the film.

It may be crammed full of stuff, but “Cars 2” lacks the heart of other Pixar films. Even the main conflict between Mater and McQueen, feels half-hearted and is too quickly resolved. It seems that director John Lasseter just wanted to see Mater as a bungling super spy, and would do whatever he had to do to get him there. The result is underwhelming.

There are some great small moments and details, most of which occur during transitions or montage. Mater chasing fixed-wing aircraft pigeons, or the countless references to other films in the Pixar canon are all fun, and make the movie something of a motion picture Where’s Waldo. B movie legend Bruce Campbell even makes an appearance as a slick American muscle car intelligence agent.

In “Cars 2,” Pixar’s penchant for cramming the screen full of busy visuals makes more for distraction and does little for character development. The film’s focus on Mater as a spy feels too clever, and too constructed. The result is a colorful, yet flat film, which might make an entertaining rental.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kate W June 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Am I right, is this Pixar’s first sequel? I think there are very few sequels that could not be considered the cinematic equivalent to prostitution. I guess they are getting millions from little fan boys, so they aren’t paying that high a price for selling their soul.

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2 Trey Hock June 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Kate, Toy Story had two sequels, and Monster’s Inc is getting one in a couple of years. Yeah this one just felt like an energetic commercial for the Cars toy line. I guess we all have to find a way to get that paycheck.

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3 Kate W June 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm

That’s right! I forgot Toy Story was Pixar. To be fair, I didn’t like the first Cars at all. I hope they don’t screw up the Monsters, Inc. sequel, I did love that one.

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4 Kyle Rohde June 25, 2011 at 8:00 am

I saw Cars 2 last night, and after reading a lot of similar reviews to this one, I wasn’t expecting much. However, I thought it was a ton of fun and a great way to take the simpler, calmer story of the first one to a bigger stage (like with any sequel). The amount of little car-guy details thrown in is incredible and made it all really enjoyable for me. And the hundred kids in the theater with me didn’t seem to mind either.

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5 Eric Melin June 25, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Kyle- I agree, there are a lot on inside jokes and other Pixar movie references to keep adults “in the game,” so to speak. It lust lacked the witty spark and depth of characters and theme that we get from most Pixar flicks and is right in line with some of the mediocre offerings from other animation studios, like “Shrek.”

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6 Barry June 30, 2011 at 12:15 am

Do you think Brad Lewis as co-director had much impact? He’s got a lot of producing cred under his belt but not much direction credit, only co-directing the english voice dub for ponyo. Not to say Lasseter had no impact on this film but I’m wondering if maybe in his duties as chief creative officer for pixar/disney animation he didn’t let Brad Lewis take more control?
In all I haven’t seen this yet, I will no matter how bad the reviews, but I have heard from multiple parents and children that this movie was just boring. In fact most kids told me it was too long, even though it was shorter than the original by five minutes.

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7 Trey Hock June 30, 2011 at 3:10 am

It’s almost impossible to tell why or how Brad Lewis influenced “Cars 2.” He could have choreographed many of the animation sequences while Lasseter decided how he wanted things to play out with the characters, or Lewis could have been acting director when Lasseter was needed else where. It’s really difficult to tell. The whole movie feels phoned in. So what ever went wrong with this combo, we can only hope it doesn’t happen again. The parents and kids you talked to where totally right. This movie is boring, which is weird, because stuff happens on screen all the time. It’s just that we aren’t made to feel anything about the characters.

When you see it, don’t bother with 3D. It’s kinda fun, but the colors are better in 2D.

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