Despite a Ferrari Predecessor, ‘Cars 2’ is a Honda Requiring Repair

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Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – “Cars 2” is an unequal Pixar blend for adults and kiddies that never evolves into the storytelling success of its predecessor. The film, which draws thematic elements from “The Bourne Identity,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Transformers,” is a Honda needing a body shop as compared to the pristine Ferrari that was “Cars”.

While landing smack dab in the middle between a failure and an indisputable triumph, “Cars 2” disappointingly floats in averageland when compared not only to its first film but especially to top-notch animated pictures like “WALL-E” and “Toy Story 3”.

Michael Caine voices Finn McMissile in Cars 2
Michael Caine voices Finn McMissile in “Cars 2”.
Image credit: Disney/Pixar

Though tykes will enjoy the film’s racing action and loveable comedy relief from the rusted and dented tow truck Mater (played masterfully by Larry the Cable Guy), much of the content of “Cars 2” is over their heads. Instead of an equal, 50/50 blend for children and their parents (like we’ve seen in animated films such as “Tangled”), “Cars 2” is 65 percent for adults and only 35 percent for kids. All the while, it’s marketed almost entirely for kids to nag their parents into taking them.

Just as we were immersed in modern themes with “WALL-E” (i.e. recycling, going green, protecting the environment, etc.), touchy and prescient themes are the lynchpin of the “Cars 2” story. On the surface, kids will eat up funny jokes from Mater and enjoy the racing rivalry between Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and archrival Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). While Francesco Bernoulli hilariously loves himself so much that he discusses himself in the first person, Larry the Cable Guy as Mater is the shining star of this film.

But under the hood of this Pixar eye-candy picture, the “Cars 2” story revolves around alternative fuel and the politics surrounding Big Oil. “Cars” and “Cars 2” both have underlying themes of friendship, loyalty, “winning isn’t everything” and “life is about the voyage rather than just the result”.

Owen Wilson voices Lightning McQueen, Larry the Cable Guy voices Mater and Michael Caine voices Finn McMissile in Cars 2
From left to right in the foreground: Owen Wilson voices Lightning McQueen, Larry the Cable Guy voices Mater and Michael Caine voices Finn McMissile in “Cars 2”.
Image credit: Disney/Pixar

“Cars 2” heads overseas for a global competition. It’s the inaugural World Grand Prix and it’ll crown the planet’s fastest car. While Mater is supposed to be helping Lightning McQueen in the pit, he accidentally becomes entangled in the sticky Web of international espionage – and unlikely love. Michael Caine is a welcome addition in his high-tech, Jason Bourne-like spy role as Finn McMissile from British intelligence.

While Finn McMissile didn’t appear in “Cars,” the character was actually conceived for a scene in the first film that went unused. In “Cars,” the Finn McMissile scene involved Lightning McQueen and Sally (Bonnie Hunt in both films). They were watching a spy movie featuring McMissile while on a date. Finn McMissile ended up being saved for this sequel. Eddie Izzard as Sir Miles Axlerod and Emily Mortimer as Holley Shiftwell are critical supporting additions to “Cars 2,” too.

But overall, “Cars 2” falls short of the finish line that “Cars” blazed through. “Cars,” which opened almost five years ago on Nov. 7, 2006, grossed $461.9 million globally in theatres on a production budget of $120 million. Financial success? Check. That film was a technical achievement with a stronger story, dazzling visuals, just the right dose of nostalgia and creative originality. For the first time, “Cars” put a face and personality into the all-American obsession for automobiles.

Thomas Kretschman voices Professor Z in Cars 2
Thomas Kretschman voices Professor Z in “Cars 2”.
Image credit: Disney/Pixar

“Cars 2,” on the other hand, returns for a second drive because the first film made heaps of cash and a sequel was financially justified. “Cars 2” feels that way, too: that it’s back to stuff more coffers, but it’s lazily devoid of the critical ingredients that made it a must-watch animated film the first time around. “Cars” has been one of Pixar’s most unlikely victories, and while it never lived up to the caliber of the “Toy Story” trilogy, it was unquestionably successful nonetheless.

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“Cars 2” is a step backward that’ll put its own trilogy in grave jeopardy. “Cars” and “Cars 2” were both directed by “Toy Story” director John Lasseter. Lasseter has also directed “Toy Story 2” and “A Bug’s Life”.

But unlike “Cars,” “Cars 2” limps along for too long. Its 113-minute run time is too lengthy and too long for animated films in general. If “Cars 2” pared down its run time, beefed up its story and brought on more “new” and groundbreaking concepts, then the average Honda that it is might have made its way into the much-prized land of the exotics.

“Cars 2” stars Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Brent Musburger, Joe Mantegna, Thomas Kretschmann, Peter Jacobson, Bonnie Hunt, Darrell Waltrip, Franco Nero, David Hobbs and Patrick Walker from directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis and writers Ben Queen and John Lasseter. The film, which has a running time of 113 minutes, opened on June 24, 2011. “Cars 2” is rated “G”.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2011 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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