Throughout the years, Pixar has come to be the most reliable production studio in Hollywood. Their movies have been so good, the fact that they’re animated has meant little. Animated or otherwise, Pixar films rank among the top movies of the last 16 years (going all the way back to 1995’s Toy Story). They have had a perfect track record, eleven for eleven (or more if you include their wonderful short films), but it seems that record is now tainted. I never thought I’d see the day, but it has come. Pixar has made a bad movie and its name is Cars 2.
The film takes place a few years after Cars. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has just returned to Radiator Springs after winning his 4th Piston Cup. His best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), is ecstatic that he’s home and has big plans for his buddy. However, they soon hear of the first ever World Grand Prix, a race that is going to be done exclusively with Allinol, an alternative fuel source being promoted by the World Grand Prix founder, Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), and head off to compete in that instead. Little do they know, an evil organization of clunkers, fearful of becoming obsolete, is out to destroy the cars during the race in an attempt to delegitimize Allinol. In a series of mix-ups, Mater finds himself participating in a mission of international espionage with secret agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who are trying to find and stop the evil mastermind behind the sabotage before it’s too late.
Except for perhaps A Bug’s Life, the original Cars is Pixar’s worst film because it is largely for children. The thematic complexity of many of their other films was all but missing. Nevertheless, it was still a good movie with a heartfelt, if overdone, message about figuring out what’s really important and finding your bliss. In that film, Lightning grew as a character and learned that there was more to life than winning races and awards. Cars 2 has nothing like that. The deepest it goes is “be nice to your friends,” which may be great for the little ones in the audience, but won’t do much for anyone who has already hit puberty. In some ways, it’s commendable to see Pixar put out a wholesome, inoffensive film solely for children—there aren’t too many of those these days—but it’s also extremely disappointing because they’re capable of so much more. In the last few years, we’ve gazed in awe at the wonders that were Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3, Pixar’s three most mature films to date. To see them take such a puerile leap backwards is disheartening to say the least.
Even with those problems in consideration, Cars 2 has a lazy, poorly developed story and an out-of-place eco-friendly message. Its call for a renewable fuel resource, however admirable it may be, will undoubtedly go over children’s heads and come off as preachy and unnecessary to the adults. Had the story been fleshed out more than what is presented, perhaps the message could have worked, but it’s not. Essentially, Cars 2 is a James Bond film with automobiles, but the problem is simply putting cars into a Bond-like scenario is not enough. Something must be done with it to make it memorable, but there’s no parody of action movie clichés (something that the excellent Kung Fu Panda 2 nailed several times), no homage to Bond elements (aside from a few character names like the aforementioned Holly Shiftwell) and no unique twist to the already worn down spy story.
As with the first film, Larry the Cable Guy is the best part of Cars 2. He puts real effort into his performance as opposed to Owen Wilson who sounds like he’s just taken a heavy dose of Nyquil and is delivering his lines only minutes before falling asleep. However, a little goes a long way and, like Ken Jeong in The Hangover Part II, his expanded part grows a bit wearisome. In this installment, Mater is the central character and his Southern ignorance becomes less and less charming as time goes on.
As should be evident by now, even the film’s positives are hampered by their own distinct negatives. The 3D, for instance, isn’t as obtrusive as other movies thanks to Cars 2’s bright and colorful nature, but it’s still unnecessary and produces more noticeable double vision than most other films in recent memory. Simply put, Pixar dropped the ball on this one. Cars 2 is hands down and by a wide margin the worst, most inaccessible Pixar film to date. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s also the first one that is not worth seeing.
Cars 2 receives 1.5/5