Review: ‘Cars 2’

June 30, 2011, 12:30 a.m.
Review: 'Cars 2'
Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

If “Cars 2” was made by DreamWorks, it’d be a pretty good movie. But because “Cars 2” is, of course, a Pixar film, it’s held to a higher standard.

Pixar has been the movie studio that could do no wrong. They have dazzled us with brilliant films in the last decade such as the “Toy Story” movies, “Monsters, Inc.,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E” and “Up.” They have shown us that it’s possible to make a film about French gourmet cooking starring a rat, to tell a robot love story and, in a society that doesn’t value old age, to have an adventure film starring a 78-year-old. In recent times, when only dark, serious movies could gain award buzz, they really showed us that movies could still be considered great despite being funny.

While the original “Cars” is generally not considered one of Pixar’s greatest movies, it’s still a solid piece of entertainment with that certain Pixar magic. The cars are all well-developed, three-dimensional characters and when Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson) shows how much he’s grown throughout his stay at Radiator Springs, it’s genuinely moving.

I wish I could say the same about “Cars 2,” but instead of nuanced, it’s simply loud and in many ways, the characters feel one-dimensional. If the original “Cars” was Pixar’s sports movie, then “Cars 2” is Pixar’s spy movie. “Cars 2” brings back all of the characters (with the exception of Doc Hudson voiced by the late Paul Newman) from the first film and introduces some new ones, including two spy cars Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).

“Cars 2” focuses a good chunk of its time on Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the dimwitted-but-lovable tow truck. While I really liked Mater in the first “Cars,” a whole movie centered on him is really a bit too much Mater. He works best when he’s a supporting character and grates when he’s anything more. The two spy cars Finn and Holley are bland and nothing more than caricatures of the generic British spies that they portray. Though the spy cars are equipped with some very cool spy gadgets and Finn’s action sequences are especially very fun to watch, as characters, they really are unmemorable.

“Cars 2” is colorful, busy and full of fun eye candy. I enjoyed many of the details in the “Cars” world including their version of drinks, airplanes, Tokyo (including anime versions of the cars), European street markets and allusions to other Pixar films. There are many attempts at jokes, but few hit the mark.

The conflicts and ideas in “Cars 2” should’ve translated into Pixar’s trademark poignancy but end up feeling hollow. There’s just too much going on: spies, racing, tons of action and traveling that really prevents the character development from coming through.

While “Cars 2” has its fun moments, it lacks heart and that extra special Pixar touch.

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