**** (out of 5)
June 24, 2011
Larry the Cable Guy as MATER
Owen Wilson as LIGHTNING MCQUEEN
Michael Caine as FINN MCMISSILE
Emily Mortimer as HOLLEY SHIFTWELL
Eddie Izzard as SIR MILES AXLEROD
John Turturro as FRANCESCO BERNOULLI
Directed by: John Lasseter & Brad Lewis
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
First, some confessions…
1) I like Larry the Cable Guy. I don’t like everything he’s ever done. His stand-up is okay, but not awful. But he makes a somewhat cuddly on-screen hero, as we saw in the first “Cars” as well as his headlining attempt with “Health Inspector.” So sue me.
2) I love Pixar. It is one of the greatest movie studios on the planet, delivering quality films for more than 15 years without a real failure in its line-up. And I also like Disney, which is now it’s parent company. I know it’s popular at times to hate on the commercialization of the Mouse House, but I don’t see a problem with that at all.
3) I thought the first ten minutes of “Bolt” was the best thing in that movie.
The purpose of disclosing those first two points is quite obvious for the film “Cars 2.” So let me start by tackling that third point.
When I saw “Bolt,” I was glued to the screen for those first ten minutes, which represented the movie-within-a-movie sequence. I loved the idea of a super-dog with bionic powers and ultra-cool spy equipment. As much as I love the James Bond films, even as they have changed over the decades, I find the sheer excitement of a computer-generated spy actioner to be irresistible.
In this sense, “Bolt” was a bit of a let-down once it got to the so-called real world. And as much heart as that movie had, I couldn’t shake the desire to see a two-hour Disney CGI spy thriller.
So considering this is exactly what resulted from the production of “Cars 2,” it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed the movie.
The story continues the adventures of Lightning McQueen and Mater, who leave Radiator Springs to be in the World Grand Prix, taking place in three different countries. However, while McQueen is touring the circuit, Mater keeps getting into trouble and embarrassing him. Soon, he accidentally stumbles into an international spy job, where he has to team up with Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell of MI-6.
A lot of critics have been complaining that this movie lacks the heart and soul of other Pixar films, and they’re right about that to a point. This is not a story of discovery like the first “Cars,” which saw Lightning McQueen transform from a cocky speedster to a nice guy. Instead, this film places familiar characters in a different situation. Mater undergoes a certain degree of self-discovery as he learns how he is perceived by the world, but for the most part, the characters are the same at the green flag as they are at the checkered one.
While some find fault in this, I applaud it. I’ve seen far too many sequels which forced a schism between characters. A classic example of this was in “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown,” which struggled to give every character an arc and every character an obstacle to overcome. It became trite fast, and it also trampled on many of the relationships and growth that happened in the first film.
Conversely, “Cars 2” doesn’t try this at all. There’s a minor spat between Lightning McQueen and Mater, but they’re still buds throughout the film. This allows the spy story to take center stage, making “Cars 2” less NASCAR and more 007. And considering my affinity towards fun, fluffy spy thrillers, I enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it better than the first film in many ways.
Another major complaint I’ve heard is that people resent how commercialized this film property is and that it was made simply to sell toys. I’m sure co-director John Lasseter would take issue with this, considering his general love for the “Cars” characters, but even then… so what? Are these people hoping to go back to a simpler time when Disney didn’t market their films like crazy with toys, lunch boxes and everything else under the sun? Because I’m pretty sure that has never happened. Walk through any toy store and behold the Disney Princess Collection, which continues to leverage Snow White and Cinderella. Or look at a Mickey Mouse watch that has been fiercely marketed over almost 80 years.
Disney commercialism is nothing new, and as a parent of three young boys, it’s nice to have. What’s wrong with a couple bed sheets and pillows with Lightning McQueen on them to offset the slew of Hannah Montana merchandise we see in stores?
But all marketing aside, it’s just a fun movie. The usual brilliance in animation comes out in this film, and we expect that from Pixar. Where the original Pixar films were quite reserved in their cinematography, “Cars 2” takes the virtual camera along for the ride. Combined with the 3D presentation – which is almost always superior for animated films – this movie is a thrill to watch.
The cast is also a lot of fun. Again, many people I know can’t get past their own disdain for Larry the Cable Guy, but he works fine in this film. After all, can you think of a better person to play a buck-toothed, red-rust-neck tow truck? I sure can’t. And Owen Wilson still works as Lightning McQueen, along with the rest of the gang from Radiator Springs.
The addition of Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer as the British agents is great, as they bring a level of class to almost anything they do. Similarly, there are some excellent supporting voices including Eddie Izzard as the World Grand Prix mastermind, Thomas Kretschmann as the evil Professor Z and Bruce Campbell as American spy Torque Redline.
In the end, “Cars 2” is just a lot of silly fluffiness with wicked-cool action and a child-like level of excitement. It’s not out there to change the world, and its messaging dials are set relatively low. Take the family and leave your cynicism at home if you dare. Even though “Cars 2” doesn’t top my Pixar list, it’s still a great film. It’s harmless and fun, and I honestly am looking forward to seeing it again.