I had my doubts when Pixar released a sequel to it’s Toy Story property all those years ago, and had them again when they announced this sequel to Cars (it seems a bit strange how an ideas factory like Pixar would go back to things it’s already accomplished), yet while Cars 2 doesn’t live up to its predecessor like the Toyquels have, it’s still a decent film to catch this summer.
In Cars 2 Lightning McQueen continues his racing exploits, and this time he’s been entered into a world series of races (sponsored by British organic fuel mogul, Miles Axlerod), featuring all different types of racing cars like dragstrip and rallying, and also has a new rival; cocky Italian formula one car, Francesco Bernoulli; who he must beat in three races to become the world champion of racing.
However, the main plot this time round follows Mater being mistaken as an American secret agent and teaming up with two high profile MI6 vehicles; Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell; who are exposing a plot to stop a gang of terrorists from ruining the world series, and Mater (unknowingly) lends a helping wheel to beat the bad guys.
Pixar are no slouches in the kids CGI film game; with their vast stable of excellent quality, money-making, properties; and this is money well spent by Disney once again; as Cars 2 is a very nice film to look at; thanks to a virtually limitless colour palette, with all the car characters models (main and background) each having their own distinctive and individual personality created just from their likeness on screen.
The attention to detail is a labour of love, and I must give the creators, and artists, credit for the amount of research that must have been done on numerous parts of motoring history to get everything spot on; even the scenes with the mystery mastermind has classic British motor parts boxes I can remember from over 15 years ago (with additional aging to show how old it is) – I’m serious, they could have been lazy and just stuck the box in, but no they had to go the extra step and add in wear and tear to impress me further. Damn you Pixar!
The cast is solid throughout. Michael Caine (Get Carter, The Dark Knight) and Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island) are welcome additions as McMissile and Shiftwell. Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers, Marley & Me) is a perfect voice fit for McQueen and American comedian Larry the Cable Guy makes Mater distinctive; compared to the other characters at least. Actually, I would go so far to say that everyone in this film is perfectly cast; even British comic Eddie Izzard (Valkyrie) does a good job in the small but important role as Miles Axlerod, and there are dozens of neat little cameos littered throughout Cars 2 (see if you can spot those by Lewis Hamilton and Bruce Campbell).
A big problem for me however is that there is simply too much Mater; he’s not really a strong enough character to make the focus of a two hour movie; sure, it’s broken up with the McQueen racing action scenes, but there’s still a ridiculous amount of the silly pickup truck bungling around and managing to complete top secret missions, when in the real world he would just be crushed. I’m sure kids find his schtick hilarious, but it was wearing pretty thin towards the end of the runtime.
Also I wasn’t too sure what message Pixar were really going for here; McQueen and Mater have a falling out, but does McQueen learn to accept his friend for what he is? Or should Mater learn to respect himself for what he is, and try not to be anything else? It creates a bit of a confusing message at the end, and it gets ignored; as all the ends are tied up with a car chase; easily one of the lowest points from the Pixar plot stable, when compared to character progression shown in Toy Story, Finding Nemo and even the first Cars.
If anything, this film shows what would be like if Pixar ever fancied having a crack at a spy genre movie; the homage pieces dotted throughout are sublime (from the five minute opening scene where McMissile invades an oil platform, to the MI6 private jet filled with gadgets), and the film is crammed with enough snippets to make a fun pastiche; with humour that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic James Bond movie (Even Shiftwell’s double entendre of a name had a decent laugh from the audience I watched it with; although I imagine it’d fly over the head of its intended audience).
I’ve seen some damning reviews for this film already; with a few going so far to say that it’s the worst thing Pixar have made; and to a point, they are right; it’s definitely the worst film Pixar have ever done; but it’s still a good individual movie, with plenty of personality, and it’s a lot better than it’s competition (which this year includes films like Rio, and Gnomeo & Juliet).
As well, I doubt a lot of other reviewers would be honest enough to say that Cars 2 is still, probably, the best kids film of the summer (even though it’s not a patch on the first). Entertaining enough (if you can stand the horrible amounts of Mater).