CARS 2 - G

One of my favorite toys when I was young was a purple car that could fly. Jet engines would sprout out of the trunk and the doors would turn into wings. I loved imagining it flying and taking down bad guys, and now it sits in my closet safe from being given away. Imagine my delight and gratification when, during the final battle in Cars 2, a purple car sprouted wings and started flying to the rescue. This is just one of the keen, childlike marvels you'll see in this movie, the 12th from Pixar Animation Studios.

Cars 2 is Pixar’s first exercise in unadulterated silliness since the original Cars in 2006, as well as the studio’s first action movie since The Incredibles. Many Pixar fans have despaired that the studio is selling out by doing sequels two years in a row, but I think they are just expecting too much. Cars 2 has the same gorgeous visuals as Ratatouille, WALL•E and Up if not the emotional ambition of those films. It does belong in the bottom half of Pixar’s output, but its entertainment value is too strong to dismiss it entirely.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has become America’s most famous racecar in the years since the last story. He enters the inaugural World Grand Prix and takes his buddy, Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy), along despite fears of embarrassment. Mater inadvertently gets mistaken for an American spy by two British agents (Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) investigating some suspicious characters. While McQueen races for the championship, Mater and his new friends race to stop the dastardly forces planning to sabotage the competition.

The spy story is both a turnaround from and an odd continuation of the first movie's tone and perspective. Cars is a tribute to Route 66, feeling nostalgic for driving to see the sights and for enjoying life in a leisurely way. Cars 2 is affectionate toward the action capabilities of cars. Since James Bond movies are often remembered for 007's trick cars, it's a novel idea to make a Cars movie based around them. The spy cars utilize their endless supply of gizmos in high-speed chases through perfectly rendered foreign locales. These frenetic but well-timed action sequences should satisfy car enthusiasts, Bond fans kids who love racing Hot Wheels through obstacle courses.

The biggest improvement over the first Cars is the switch between protagonists. McQueen, the city boy who learned about humility in the first film, was an unappealing jerk who made it very easy for Mater and Doc Hudson, the old racecar voiced by Paul Newman, to steal the whole movie. Making Mater the protagonist of this movie is a boon depending on how you feel about the character. If you think he’s just a stereotype or have little tolerance for Larry the Cable Guy, then you will consider Cars 2 torturous. For people like me who find Mater amusing and likeable, his promotion from sidekick to hero is a welcome change after the drudgery of trying to care about McQueen. (I do agree, though, that reducing his number of jokes would have benefitted this overlong movie.)

Cars 2 suffers from the same unavoidable flaw as the first film; the characters’ awkward design spoils the film’s overall appearance. Being cars, they are huge, bulky figures who have to interact at an angle to occupy the same frame or even to look each other in the eye. The film has to cut back and forth between them when they converse, which diminishes the character rapport we would get if we could see them in a two-shot. We cannot connect with them through close-ups because the camera must remain at a distance to get a decent view of them. These problems do not affect Cars 2 as much as Cars since it has more races and chases than character relations. Still, the characters’ obtrusive structure makes the direction and blocking too unnatural, even for a movie set in a world of sentient cars.

When the action sequences distract you from the series’ innate weirdness, Cars 2 is quite enjoyable. It absolutely lacks the poignancy of Pixar’s most recent movies, but I can assure you that it does not skimp on imagination. Anyone who enjoys watching or imagining cars performing daring stunts will have fun with this movie.


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