It hurts a little to have to write this review. Pixar Animation Studios has consistently produced so many wonderful and memorable films over the past 25 years that it seems petty to go after them for dropping the ball once. But drop it they have with Cars 2.
The first clue that something is wrong is the out-of-left-field shift in plot. Whereas the original Cars was a story about respecting and recovering past glory that played out in a sleepy little town, Cars 2 is an international spy caper. Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), agents for British Intelligence, are investigating a ring of “lemon” cars (Gremlins and Pacers, obviously) who have developed some sort of weapon, with unknown plans for it. In Tokyo to meet with a deep cover American agent who has information on the ringleader’s identity, they mistake dim-witted tow truck Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) for their contact. There to support his friend Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who has been challenged to an international Grand Prix race, Mater happens to be so clueless that the British agents think it can only be an act.
In itself, there’s nothing wrong with changing the tone of a sequel like this, and the concept is actually pretty clever, since geared-up cars and chases have been spy movie staples since James Bond came along. But a good spy movie usually carries a lot of plot and exposition, and it’s overwhelming for the young kids who will make up the bulk of the audience. The action will certainly hold their attention, but the rest of the time they’ll have trouble figuring out what’s going on.
The other problem is that, as Mater’s involvement in the spy story deepens, it eats up the rest of the movie. From the advertising, McQueen is still presented as the main character here, but he’s actually left off the screen for long periods of time, including a significant race win that we only get to see at the finish line. Meanwhile, Mater thrashes around, and a character that was previously great in small doses quickly wears out his welcome. It feels like a bait-and-switch.
Despite its issues, there’s no denying that Cars 2 is a quality film. The animation is as amazing as ever and the voice talent are all top-notch. Director John Lasseter and his team have obviously put a lot of thought into the story and details, but they’ve failed to notice how out-of-balance the final product is. There are few laughs, and even the kids will probably figure out the “mystery” long before the characters do.
With a little more pre-planning effort, Cars 2 could have been much better. As it is, young kids will probably still like it, but later on they’ll wonder why.
Tags: movie review