What It Is
Cars 2 begins as far from Radiator Springs as you can imagine, that is, inside a James Bondy spy movie. When one spy-car sends off his last transmission from inside a villain’s secret hideout, his longtime ally, Finn McMissile (an Aston Martin voiced by Michael Caine) decides to take up the mission. He heads to the Pacific Ocean, specifically, a huge field of ominously flaming oil rigs, and spots the evil weapons designer Professor Zündapp (a boxy Zundapp Janus wearing a monocle and voiced by Thomas Kretschmann). A shootout and a chase scene later, some minion cars are dead (exploded and or drowned in the ocean) and Finn is determined to stop whatever evil scheme Professor Z has in mind. Er, in transmission. Or something.
This opening sequence leads to more confusion, as Finn meets up with an assistant, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), in Tokyo, full of neon and high-tech gadgets (including a bathroom where the stalls offer all manner of computer assistance). Here, it so happens, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) have also recently arrived, in order that Lightning can race in a World Grand Prix event. His main opponent is a cocky Italian Formula One car, Francesco (John Turturro), as both compete to be the fastest car running on the new hybrid fuel Allinol, in races sponsored by Allinol’s inventor, the Land Rover Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard). (Yes, a car invents, promotes, and profits from fuel, making for some positively existential complications, if you think about it, which the filmmakers apparently do not.)
As the racers face off, it becomes increasingly clear that Mater, loud and uncouth and simple, will be a problem for Lightning. It’s not long before Finn and Holley mistake Mater’s ignorance for a great disguise, believing him to be a master spy. As they involve him in their plot, the sequel loses sight of Lightning for long stretches. Instead, it tracks Mater’s confrontations with a couple of violent goons — the Gremlin Grem (Joe Mantegna) and the Pacer Acer (Peter Jacobson) — as well as his awkward affection for Holley.
Though the races are set in a series of not-Radiator Springs locations — Tokyo, Paris, Porto Corso — the film makes them all seem pretty much the same, with crashes in each, all blamed on the hybrid fuel Allinol. It seems like a plot, but it’s awfully disorganized. When Lightning reunites with Mater, they put together what’s been happening and become best friends — again.
Why It’s Fun
The best part of Cars 2 in theaters has nothing to do with Cars 2. It’s the Pixar short that comes before, “Hawaiian Vacation,” starring the toys from Toy Story. In just a few minutes, this little movie (teeny trailer available here) provides everything Cars 2 doesn’t, from deft characterizations and believable relationships to clever dialogue, and oh yes, dazzling animation. In brief: when Ken (Michael Keaton) and Barbie (Jodi Benson) miss their ride to a Hawaiian vacation with Bonnie and her family, the rest of the toys rig a faux Hawaii, complete with Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) speaking Spanish, plastic palm trees, scuba diving, and a romantic night out, so the couple might manage their first kiss. All the while Ken wears fabulous outfits and takes pictures with his fake camera: “Click click!”, he says, “Click click!”, so as not to forget a thing. Funny, fast, and inspired, it’s a very smart short.
Cars 2 itself is less fun. As in the first film — the Pixar film most obviously made to sell products, namely, toy cars, rather than charm audiences — the races are still over-narrated by racetrack announcers, the secondary racers are still barely noted, and the crowds of cars watching the races still wave flags (and it’s still unclear how they hold onto them). The globetrotting spies story isn’t so much fun when you’re not looking at actual locations, and the cars’ story isn’t so much fun when they have little to do but chase after one another.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the first Cars might want to see favorite vehicles again. That said, most of these take a backseat to the actionated plot: Sally (Bonnie Hunt), for instance, stays behind in Radiator Springs, after agitating Lightning by her swooning over Francesco’s lack of fenders. And while I imagine some Cars fans are very attached to Mater, really, Larry the Cable Guy’s humor is not precisely designed for children. And this movie, with so much riding on his outsized, not a little stale, persona, does tend to drag.
What To Be Aware Of
Cars 2 introduces some all-new concepts: Cars are exploded and, apparently, killed. Cars unexpectedly urinate (or leak oil). Cars feel humiliated when their friends chastise them for “making a scene” (as Lightning puts it to Mater). Cars are selfish, sneaky, and greedy. Cars invent fuel and invest in fuel sources. Cars hold grudges and make bad jokes. Who knew?
This film features some disturbing violence against cars. If this movie starred live people and not animated vehicles, it’s likely it would not be rated G.
Some potty-style jokes, including the leaking oil and some Tokyo bathroom business.
The sequel does eventually return the crew to Radiator Springs, so that you can hear a bit of the low-rider Ramone (Cheech Marin), the heavily accented “Mexican” stereotype who set a sad precedent, apparently, for the German and Italian stereotypes in this film.
4 out of 10
Director: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Cast: Owen Wilson, John Ratzenberger, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Jenifer Lewis, Sig Hansen, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeff Gordon, Paul Dooley, Katherine Helmond
US Premiere: June 24, 2011
UK Premiere: July 22, 2011