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Cars 2 (A Movie Review)

Cars 2

Cars 2

CARS 2 (2011)

Featuring the voices of Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Brett Musberger, Joe Mantegna, Bonnie Hunt, Franco Nero, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Garlin, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Isaacs, Jenifer Lewis, Vanessa Redgrave, Bruce Campbell, Cheech Marin, Jeff Gordon, Paul Dooley, Richard Kind, Katherine Helmond and John Ratzenberger.

Screenplay by Ben Queen.

Directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.   106 minutes.  Rated G.

Pixar has never really run the straight and narrow as a movie studio, so I suppose it is no great surprise that they would go so far off the traditional course in what is only the third sequel in company history.  (The two previous were Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3.)

Cars 2 has very little in common with its extremely popular predecessor.  In fact, in many ways, the film is the polar opposite.

First of all, the main character of Cars 2 is no longer Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), the hotshot race car who learned to slow down and appreciate good old-fashioned Americana in the first film.  Instead, this film revolves squeakily around the bent chassis of the first film’s comic relief, Tow Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), the lovably decrepit and slightly slow local tow truck.

The entire tone of the film has changed as well.  Instead of being a charming, sepia-toned celebration of small towns in America, Cars 2 is as shiny and sparkly as a fireworks display.  It is a salute to high-tech gadgets and big city excitement and even has a 60s British spy caper grafted on like a gaudy-but-ultimately unnecessary spoiler.  (Car spoilers, not movie spoilers!)

And, even though it has much more going on – more action sequences, more twinkly lights, more races, more explosions, bigger truck tippings – Cars 2 is only about half as much fun as the original.

It’s still a fairly good movie – and the technical craft with which it is made is still rather stunning – but Cars 2 is not nearly as fresh as its predecessor.

The film has opportunities that it mostly squanders.  Taking the Cars world to Grand Prix in such cosmopolitan cities as Tokyo and London, while a great departure from the original thrust of the story, could be somewhat interesting.

However, even this plot thread is quickly mostly abandoned.  Instead, it turns into Mater, super spy, when a pair of British spy cars (wonderfully voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) mistake Mater for their American operative and take him on a death-defying mission, some silliness based around a natural synthetic fuel.

The races and the racers become of secondary importance, in the meantime you are wondering how two such accomplished spies could not recognize that their new co-hort is an idiot.

Frankly, Mater works much better as a supporting character than he does as a hero.  Your patience for Cars 2 will depend largely on how much Larry the Cable Guy you can stomach in a short period of time, and honestly I was well past my maximum tolerance long before the movie ended.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: November 1, 2011.

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