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Cars 2 - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Cars 2
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-
Animation: A-

Okay, so maybe calling Cars 2 "sloppy seconds" is an unfair exaggeration. The trouble is, unlike any other Pixar Animation Studios film -- and certainly any other Pixar sequel -- to date, it brings genuine mediocrity within arm's length.

I'm kind of at a loss as to the necessity of Cars 2. Admittedly, I wasn't the biggest fan of the original Cars in 2006; even at an otherwise perfectly good B+ movie, it was a disappointment compared to any previous Pixar offering. It had all the heart but none of the depth that Pixar had become known for. When Cars was followed by the inferior Ratatouille in 2007, it seemed Pixar was finally headed in the wrong direction -- but then came the spectacularly redeeming WALL-E in 2009, and then the eminently satisfying Toy Story 3 in 2010.

When Pixar is at its best -- which is more often than not -- their films work exceptionally well on multiple levels. Even Cars engendered nostalgia for the old America of Route 66, touching adult viewers in a unique way while simultaneously providing the kids with wild entertainment.

Cars 2, on the other hand, is all wild entertainment and little else. That's not a terrible thing, exactly; it's just not nearly up to the usual Pixar standards. More than any other film they've offered, it's a bit of a throwaway feature, a sequel that at times feels like it might as well have been released direct to DVD.

The animation, as always, is exceptional. But there is slight disappointment here: unlike, say, the original Toy Story, or Finding Nemo, or even WALL-E, Cars 2 does not up the game technologically. There is no true wow-factor here; no visual dazzle.

Tha said, Cars 2 is relatively fun and engaging. It certainly shifts gears -- pardon the pun -- from the original by taking the focus off rural American highway towns of yesteryear, and places the action in exotic locales around the world: Japan; Italy; England. This provides a lot of opportunity for visual gags, most of which are pretty funny if not quite as witty as the Pixar writers have been before. On top of this, the story this time is one of international espionage, with British intelligence agents (voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) mistaking Mater the Tow Truck (Larry the Cable Guy) for an American informant with a brilliant disguise.

This is where Cars 2 takes a 180° turn from Cars, in that Mater becomes the primary character, and Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) being the supporting character. Lightning still races plenty -- in all three of the aforementioned countries, in a World Grand Prix -- but this is merely part of a subplot that supports what's happening to Mater. A car named Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) has evidently invented a renewable fuel, and he's promoting it by using the product to fuel all the racers in the Grand Prix. But cars keep blowing out while participating in the race, causing speculation that the fuel is actually dangerous.

The green fuel aspect and the espionage aspect intersect with Mater, who gets mixed up with agents tracking criminals they progressively come to understand as having some kind of connection to this race. And the running joke here is that Mater is assumed to have taken a brilliant disguise in his performance of apparent backward idiocy.

All of this takes the broader themes farther away from that of automobiles than they were in the first film; the first one focused, after all, on the ideas of "it's not the destination but the journey" and of travel for pleasure, specifically on Route 66. Cars 2 may take place all over the world, but it has nothing to say about the pleasures of traveling around the world -- instead it showcases clashing cultures and James Bond-esque gadgetry as running gags.

Make no mistake: this will still be wild entertainment to kids, who will certainly eat it all up. It's just the adults who won't be reached to quite the extent that Pixar has long been known for -- the one thing that has historically set the studio apart. Cars 2 has punch lines to spare, but it's far out of reach of the audience's emotional core. It's plenty of fun and a perfectly acceptable diversion, but ultimately forgettable

Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy bring a Pixar film dangerously close to mediocrity in 'Cars 2.'

Overall: B
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