There is only one movie studio out there that is pitching a perfect game and that's Pixar. All of their films have been huge financial hits and several have won Oscars. All of them have over a 90% on RottenTomatoes.com...all of them except one - Cars. So why would they select that one for a sequel? The reason is simple, it's Disney's bread and butter for selling merchandise to boys. So much so that Disneyland is building an entire land dedicated to Cars that opens next year. So, I get it. But the geniuses at Pixar know that in order to not sully their sterling reputation, they can't just make a sequel for the sake of marketing; they need to reinvent it. They did not accomplish that with Cars 2 though.
My issues with the Cars series really kind of shows my colors as a movie snob. I enjoy ALL of the Pixar movies, but Cars is certainly my least favorite. The reason why is because I consider it to be the least imaginative and original of their pedigree. Every single one of the Pixar movies involve these fantastical characters that have crazy adventures. But you buy into all of them as an audience member because even when they involve monsters, talking toys or talking fish, they still show how those fantasy characters exist in a real world. They show how they interact with humans and make it believable. Cars doesn't do that. It's our world, but with zero humans and cars just exist without us. It's weird and also kept me from really enjoying them. That, and I hate NASCAR.
But Cars 2, just like Toy Story 3, isn't simply a repackaging of the original in a crapfest-of-a-sequel. They did a decent job of making it its own film with a totally new story. In Cars 2, that story is a "spy thriller." Clever, especially when you employee the magnificent Michael Caine (The Dark Knight, Inception) as one of the new characters - a super spy named Finn McMissile. The action is great and thrilling at times no matter what your age is. There's racing, but very little, which is totally fine with me. The animation in the film is also one of the highlights. It's worth the extra dough for 3D and the colors and clarity is better than any computer animated film I've ever seen.
The problems started when I realized that Lightening McQueen, who's voiced by Owen Wilson, is not the star of this one. Sadly, it's his dim-witted counter part, Tow Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy and the only funny thing he's ever done. I enjoyed Larry the Cable Guy in Cars but he's like Russell Brand; he's great as a supporting character but annoying and trying as a lead.
Cars 2 is not a bad movie. It's good. There are vast sequences that made me laugh out loud, mostly brought on by another new Italian character voiced by the awesome John Turturro (Big Lebowski, Transformers) in one of the best performances he's had in years. It also has a heartwarming montage set to Weezer (my favorite band) doing a cover of The Cars...again with the cleverness! I think the victim here is Pixar itself. They have raised the bar so high with their films that we don't expect another animated movie for kids; we expect art. Toy Story 3 was the best movie of 2010 and made adults weep buckets. The first 10 minutes of Up was more of a sweeping romance than anything that came out in the last decade. The final scene of Monsters Inc. is still one of the best, most emotional endings I've ever seen. Cars 2, though, is just slightly above another animated movie for kids. And that's kind of upsetting.
Cars 2 (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: B