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Review: Cars 2 (2011)

Cars 2 (2011)

Directed by: John Lasseter and Brad Lewis

Premise: A sequel to the 2006 film. Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) joins the pit crew for Lightening McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and gets caught up in an international espionage plot.

What Works: Cars 2 is visually striking, as most Pixar films have been. A night scenes are particularly impressive as the film uses neon colors very well.

What Doesn’t: The original Cars was the weakest link in Pixar’s filmography. That position is now held by Cars 2, which lacks many of the qualities that have distinguished Pixar’s animated features. Although Pixar’s films were always intended to have wide audience appeal, the studio’s productions consistently possessed enough artistry and craft to transcend the limits that usually hamper Hollywood blockbusters. But Cars 2 possesses none of the character work of films like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. or the ambition and visual dazzle of WALL-E and Up. Instead, Cars 2 plays like the cheap direct-to-video sequels that Disney once produced to its hand drawn animated features. Much of what is good about Cars 2 is derived from the original but those things are toned down and presented in a less interesting way. The racings scenes lack the visual style of of the previous Cars film and the story exacerbates the flaws of the original, relying even more on cliché plot turns and hokey dialogue. The new film’s link to the original is tenuous; it takes Mater, the slow but earnest tow truck of the original film, and places him at the center of this story. But Mater was never intended to be the star of the Cars universe. He is a supporting character whose potential is limited to a comedic sidekick. Casting Mater as the protagonist leads to all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the fact that the character is dumb and obnoxious, and placing him at the center of the film stretches an already thin concept beyond the breaking point. In an effort to give Mater something to do, the film puts him in the middle of a ridiculous espionage story. Cars 2 includes a lot of action but this is also very problematic. The Cars films have established that the automobiles are basically human; they are living beings with personalities and emotions. But in Cars 2’s spy story, the automobiles shoot at each other and often blow one another away. The film is confusing in the way it deals with this violence and carnage. The cars, who are for all intents and purposes mechanical people, blow up and die and the the film inelegantly shifts from portraying cars as subjects to empathize with to objects to be destroyed. Violence is not unheard of in family films; Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean have considerably more carnage than Cars 2, but compared to the original Cars film or other Pixar pictures the violence in Cars 2 is out of place, it is used inconsistently, and it may surprise some parental viewers.

Bottom Line: Cars 2 is a disappointment. It is not a bad film; in many ways it is still better than a lot of the big budget Hollywood films released lately. But viewers who are familiar with the quality of Pixar’s usual output will find this film underwhelming.

Episode: #347 (July 10, 2011)