Cars 2 Review
Despite being one of the least beloved Pixar films on its release in 2006 by Pixar’s incredibly high standards, Cars was always one of the ripest for franchise picking. With almost $10bn raked in on merchandising, cynics would say that a sequel is just a further excuse to milk a very lucrative cash cow, but it's clear the demand for the characters was there perhaps mainly because, out of all of Pixar's canon, Cars definitely was the one aimed most firmly at children. It’s a similar story with Cars 2 so people expecting the emotional heft and depth of Toy Story 3 should lower their expectations now; what we have instead is an above-average children’s flick that hold little pretensions of anything more and is one that children will love and adults certainly won’t be bored by.
Cars 2 sees Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) set off for Europe for McQueen to compete in the World Grand Prix against his rival Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). However, nefarious individuals are determined to ruin the Grand Prix and especially the reputation of new clean fuel Allinol, which sees Mater get pulled into the world of international espionage after he’s mistaken for a secret agent by British agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and rookie Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
Needless to say, the animation is again top-notch from Pixar with the globetrotting adventures allowing them to turn their hand to a number of different locations, from Japan to good old Blighty, and it all looks incredible. It’s the attention to detail that impresses with numerous sight gags, such as the use of a pair of fluffy dice on a casino table, that will keep the adults entertained, even managing to raise a laugh out of the overplayed 'attempting to make a Beefeater (albeit this time in car form) move' gag. However, the 3D is somewhat superfluous with it not really adding the level of depth that Toy Story 3 and Up achieved and no attempts to make things jump out of the audience; given that it’ll likely be a whole family going along, 2D will not only save the pennies but you won’t lose anything either.
The other main positives of the film lie in the action and the sterling voice talent. Kicking off with a thrilling escape from an oil rig, the action scenes tend not to feature as much racing as you’d expect but they’re visually thrilling and pulsating to watch, although do feature some darker moments that might upset younger children; for instance, the opening scene shows a car plummeting off the rig into the sea before ‘body’ parts float up to the surface. We’ve also come to expect high standards with Pixar’s choice of voice actors and Cars 2 exceeds there as well. The newcomers especially succeed with the honeyed tones of Emily Mortimer making you believe that a car can be sexy, John Turturro hamming it up as the cock-sure Italian Formula One driver and Michael Caine’s cut-glass English accent a perfect fit for a secret agent. However, your tolerance of Larry The Cable Guy will affect your enjoyment as Mater is pretty much centre stage throughout the middle act and his shtick will either be endearing or highly annoying, although he does stumble on a good line from time to time.
Despite all its positives though, you can’t quite shake the feeling that Cars 2 is Pixar on cruise control, a point that is especially pertinent when it comes to the heavy-handed emotional scenes. Perhaps it’s because of less of a connection with the characters but their assured touch for making a grown man cry into his popcorn is gone, replaced by clichéd scenes underpinned by an unsubtle moral message of being yourself and accepting people for their flaws. It means that Cars 2 doesn’t have the lasting appeal of Toy Story 3, Up or Wall-E as you don’t really care about the characters, meaning you enjoy the ride, but don’t think about it much after.
The thing is, since the release of Cars when the general consensus was that Pixar being merely good was still miles ahead of their competitors, animation has seen a strong upturn. Dreamworks has strengthened, primarily with Kung Fu Panda and its sequel, and even parent company Walt Disney are back in the game after this year’s superb Tangled, so while Pixar on cruise control is far from terrible, it may not be their annual shoe-in for awards season. However, Cars 2 is still a fun time at the cinema that will be lapped up by those with affections for the original and should be embraced by detractors of the original if they give it a go. We just might have to wait for next year’s Brave for Pixar to reduce us to gushing, blubbering messes yet again.
*Also, make sure you get there early to catch the fantastic new Toy Story short, Hawaiian Vacation, as the gang go about creating a vacation for Ken and Barbie. It’s hilarious, heartfelt and utter genius; basically everything we’ve come to expect from adventures with the Toy Story gang.*
All images © Disney·Pixar