Pixar does not churn out films quite as frequently as other studios, but when they do they produce product that is decidedly polished and at the very least entertaining for the target audience. I also appreciate that Disney and Pixar don’t follow their sequels with ridiculous extra titles after the number unlike a certain Hasbro toy brand. CARS entered the elite list of movies that Pixar has produced for the kiddos and I have to admit I was not fully on board with it like I was with almost every other Pixar movie, but I liked it. CARS 2 follows in its footsteps by not being anything I can confidently say just about anyone can enjoy, but at the very least the kids can have fun in the continued misadventures of Mater and Lightning McQueen.
This time around Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) sort of takes a backseat to his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Mater mistakenly gets wrapped up with super spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) as they are trying to uncover a mischievous plot. The plot is a group of junky cars to derail the emergence of Miles Axlerod’s alternative fuel that threatens to make good old fashioned gas almost obsolete. The stage is a World Grand Prix that Axlerod has organized in which all the competitors are using the alternative fuel. Mater works McMissile and Shiftwell to stop the conspirators while Lightning McQueen is engaged in a competition with Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) to prove who the fastest car in the Grand Prix is.
CARS 2 sees the disappearance of the charm that elevated the original to being as enjoyable as I thought it was and replaced it with a very generic tale of friendship with the inner workings of a spy action movie. The good news is that I actually really liked everything involving Michael Caine’s McMissile character which was all the spy action, but the reliance of Mater this time around gets a little old. I know the kids seem to really enjoy the rusty tow truck, but past a few chuckles I get from the character I have a hard time grappling him as the main character. Everything between Mater and McQueen seemed fit more for a CARS TV show or one of the shorts than a full length feature. Even Owen Wilson seemed to phoning this one in as his voice work left a little something to be desired.
The original CARS ranks at the bottom of my favorite Pixar movies, even though I still liked it, but CARS 2 is going to take over that parking space. Don’t get me wrong though, I didn’t completely hate CARS 2, I just don’t think that it comes close to deserving the Pixar logo in the credits. The animation is great as always; the backdrops, explosions and little details all look fantastic. One nice touch that was very minor but got a chuckle out of me was a quick shot of cars gambling at a craps table and the player throws a set of the rear view mirror hanging dice; a minor detail that was very clever and funny. CARS 2 is full of small details that I found clever, it’s just a shame that I didn’t feel the same about the rest of the film.
While Pixar movies shy away from the tacked on extended titles, there never a missed opportunity to do a play on words with cars and the names of the characters and that tradition is extended in CARS 2. We have characters like Finn McMissile, Holley Shiftwell, Brent Mustangburger, Miles Axlerod and Mel Dorado. There are no additions to the cast that stand out that well aside from Michael Caine and John Turturro, but George Carlin and Paul Newman are quite missed as the voices of Doc and Fillmore (Doc Hudson is missing completely as a matter of fact). Aside from some of the lazy voice acting there are other suspect omissions; one being that through most of the film the Sheriff is not shown, maybe I missed him, but I only saw him come seemingly out of nowhere in the final minutes.
CARS 2 is also without any memorable music number; the first at least had a rendition of “Life is a Highway” to remember at the end. After walking out of CARS 2 I cannot pick out anything in the score or soundtrack that made any type of impression.
It’s not all doom and gloom in the frames of CARS 2 though. Pixar’s animation never disappoints and I am an admirer of just about any and all computer animated features. A Pixar movie never skimp on the small seemingly unimportant details, most that some children probably wouldn’t give a second thought but knows there is an audience that will catch on and enjoy them. There are some funny moments to break up the dull stretches. Towards the end while the message the film pushes forward regarding accepting yourself rather than trying to hide who you are is universal and relatable, I can’t help but feel like it is slightly heavy handed. It seems a little watered down, as if the filmmakers don’t think kids could grasp it any other way and since they have characters that kids fell in love with it feels like they didn’t put much work into the story. Animation is the crutch that the filmmakers lean on to tell the story and the animation contains nearly everything clever about the film.
With the Pixar brand attached to CARS 2 it’s safe to say that I had expected a much better end result than what was delivered. However, even a subpar Pixar movie has entertainment value, even if it’s more disappointing than endearing. Given the quality of films from the studio over recent years, even Pixar gets the benefit of the doubt. CARS 2 at times feels like a blatant cash grab that fails to be as clever as it thinks it is with its script and more impressive and funny on a visual level. I can say without a doubt that I do not need another CARS film just as I didn’t need this sequel, but now that it’s here I siphoned as much entertainment out of it as I could. CARS 2 is an example of filmmakers doing very little at the wheel than setting the cruise control and periodically weaving around obstacles. When the film does take a turn it has its moments, but does very little but eat miles and doesn’t fully justify the trip.