Cars 2 (2011)

Directed by John Lasseter
Written by Ben Queen

Pixar this, Pixar that, Pixar’s the best. Well, honestly, they have been pretty untouchable since they burst on the animated feature scene in 1995 with Toy Story. They have dominated the American animation landscape and only the great Hayao Miyazaki and perhaps Sylvain Chomet have rivaled Pixar’s success at the international level. What has made Pixar so great has been their creative and original ideas. With the exception of the Toy Story series, their body of work has been without sequel, until this film. Cars was one of the lesser Pixar films when it released as well, even though it did receive mostly positive reviews.

In this return of the beloved Cars, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) returns to Radiator Springs after yet another Piston Cup win. But McQueen is quickly called off of vacation when his best mate Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) mouths off that McQueen is the fastest car in the world on a program announcing the newly created World Grand Prix. Upon traveling to Japan, however, Mater gets caught up in an international spy plot surrounding the prestigious event. The two tales intertwine as the suspense builds to a climax.

What worked so well before in the original Cars was endearing characters and the education of Lightning McQueen. Characters like Mater were great supporting characters in McQueen’s story. But this time, Mater takes center stage as the lead character, mistaken as an American spy with British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). It is a fun James Bond type scenario, but dressed up as a kids movie and with cars. The mistake here is making Mater the lead character. Mater is good in small doses, but his shtick becomes annoying in the lead role.

Even though this film is a sequel, it is an original idea, to some extent. As I said, it is a James Bond type spy thriller, a genre Pixar has yet to tackle. It tries s hard to be like James Bond, and yet it is only decently executed. The intrigue does not work to its full effect due to the story of Lightning and his rivalry with the Italian formula car Francesco Bernoulli (John Tuturro) in the World Grand Prix. The scenario does lend itself well to the animation, however, giving the animators plenty of pretty, exotic locations and neat action sequences.

The film does not live up to the platinum standard of Pixar, but that does not mean that it was not enjoyable. It was. That also does not mean that it is not comparable to many of the latest animated features from other studios. They did not do too much with the interesting scenario which they set up and the characters and overall message were not nearly as strong as they were in the first. Pixar very well may fail for the first time to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film for one of their films since the award was instituted in 2001.

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