It’s difficult to dislike a Pixar movie because the studio is well-known for telling great stories with wonderful animation. After all, this is the studio that released the “Toy Story” trilogy and the heart-warming “Up.” “Cars 2,” the newest Pixar film to hit theaters, continues the studio’s tradition of great animation but its story falls short and fails to capture the wonderment of some of the studio’s earlier films.
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The flaws in “Cars 2” are especially evident because the feature-length story is preceded by a short “Toy Story” film. The short film displays the creativity and imagination that is sorely lacking in “Cars 2.” Despite the fact that the “Toy Story” crew has already been featured in three films, the new story about Ken and Barbie missing out on a Hawaiian vacation is inventive and extremely funny. The feature film that follows can’t hold a candle to it.
In “Cars 2,” Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is challenged by European opponent Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) to compete in the World Grand Prix, an international racing competition. After prodding from girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt), McQueen decides to bring his friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) along with him. Mater, who acts like he’s never been on a vacation before, quickly begins embarrassing his friend overseas. Mater also becomes mixed up in a spy plot that involves two secret agents, voiced by Emily Mortimer and Michael Caine respectively.
Caine, whose distinguished voice is a refreshing addition to the cast, does great work but Paul Newman, who voiced Doc Hudson in the original, is missed. Also missing from this story is the sense of innocence that was captured in the original. Instead of relying on a good story, this sequel becomes a typical spy movie with a bumbling character caught up in the middle of a conspiracy. “Cars 2” does feature an escape sequence early on that would make James Bond jealous but it’s strange to watch the animation geniuses at Pixar settle for a story that features a lot of guns and explosions.
John Lasseter, who previously worked on the first two “Toy Story” films, directed “Cars 2” with the help of co-director Brad Lewis. The story was written by both of them and Dan Fogelman; the screenplay was written by Ben Queen. Other than Queen, the others have worked on previous Pixar films. Yet, instead of being creative or having fun with the subject as other Pixar films do, “Cars 2” runs on fumes and makes a lot of easy choices about the plot, never stepping far away from the formula or inserting a fresh sense of inventiveness into it.
Despite its flaws, it’s difficult not to appreciate the work involved in “Cars 2.” The animation, as usual for Pixar, is phenomenal and many of the foreign cities depicted in it are beautiful to behold. The characters also come alive in it. Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t support them and bogs it down. There is enough good in “Cars 2” to recommend it (barely), especially for families who want to spend a few hours at the cineplex. It’s a well-made film that could have been much better with a stronger script.
It should be noted that Big Oil is unsurprisingly a major villain in “Cars 2.” In a movie about cars, the people who develop gasoline are an easy and obvious target and if “Cars 2” will be known as anything in the Pixar universe, it will be known for making easy and obvious decisions.