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The Independent Critic

VOCAL WORK BY
Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer and Thomas Kretschmann
DIRECTED BY
Brad Lewis and John Lasseter
SCREENPLAY
Ben Queen (Screenplay), John Lasseter (Story), Brad Lewis (Story), & Dan Fogelman (Story)
MPAA RATING
Rated G
RUNNING TIME
113 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Disney/Pixar
DVD EXTRAS
Theatrical Short - Toy Story Toon:  Hawaiian Vacation
All-New, Exclusive Cars Toon: Air Mater
Director Commentary (Blu-Ray has MUCH more!)
 "Cars 2" Review 
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If I were John Lasseter, I'd be embarrassed to have my name attached to Cars 2.

A shameless money grab that goes against virtually everything that Pixar Animation has come to stand for, Cars 2 is a decent animated film from a company that has come to exemplify animated perfection and the gold standard in American-made films for families and children.

This is not to say that the original Cars was a masterpiece. In fact, a good number of film writers and moviegoers alike would consider Cars to have been Pixar's weakest link, sort of a cheese-and-crackers appetizer when one has grown accustomed to caviar. That said, a good number of people also enjoy cheese-and-crackers and, for better or worse, an average film from Pixar is still far better than the vast majority of animated features from other studios. There are some who will likely even consider Cars 2 superior to its predecessor, mainly because it's a more kid-friendly production that will be considered by the kids to be a funnier, more light-hearted and entertaining flick.

In this writer's opinion, the problem with Cars 2 isn't that it's a bad film. It's that it's not a Pixar film.

A Pixar film is a wondrously and awesomely animated film that leaves both parent and child breathless and awe-inspired by the very experience of having watched the film. A Pixar film respects children and speaks up rather than talks down to them, a true rarity among American children's films. A Pixar film features a story where you think and you feel and you are bedazzled and you leave the theater completely enveloped by the cinematic experience.

In short, a Pixar film transforms parent and child, moviegoer and film critic.

Cars 2 entertains. Modestly. That's simply not enough for a Pixar film.

Cars 2 is both a racing comedy and a wee bit of a spy-thriller that pushes the limit on its G-rating with an abundance of weapon-equipped vehicles and action sequences. Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is still hanging out in Radiator Springs, living the good life and eagerly anticipating the out-of-racing season visits from good buddy Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). McQueen's success and growing life experience outside Radiator Springs has, however, made the always rather "simple" Mater look even more simple and before long McQueen is spending more time with his girl, Sally (Bonnie Hunt). Fast forward a few scenes and McQueen finds himself participating in the World Grand Prix sponsored by Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) with his primary competition being an outlandishly cocky Italian driver, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) while Mater gets drawn into spy intrigue due to a case of mistaken identity involving a British agent named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and novice agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).

Did you get all that?

There is one aspect of Cars 2, and that would be its wonderfully layered and painstakingly detailed animation that rather miraculously recreates many European landmarks and historical places as our race car drivers find themselves traveling throughout Europe, with special attention to both England and Italy. Watching a Pixar film is like watching a "how-to" film on creating visually arresting and authentically constructed animated feature films.

Outside of the wonderfully realized animation, however, Cars 2 is a painfully dumbed down and too frequently unfunny film that too often appears to be not much more than a money grab with easy laughs, a convoluted story and, worst of all, 3-D animation that is utterly pointless despite the potential of the film's racing and spy action sequences. Pixar has spent years building a reputation for respecting children and families, but with Cars 2 Pixar seems to choose to act like every other corporate entity out there in milking families for as much money as possible while not giving back as much as families deserve.

While there's no question that Larry the Cable Guy's good ole' boy shtick plays well with many and his vocals fit Mater quite nicely, it's difficult to forget in Cars 2 that it is a shtick and after nearly two hours it becomes quite the tiresome one. The problem with using actors with distinct voices is that too often you can't help but think to yourself "That's Larry the Cable Guy" or "That's Owen Wilson" or "That's Michael Caine." An inventive and gifted vocal actor can overcome the challenge with inflection, imagination and true character development, but too often in Cars 2 we find Larry the Cable Guy being Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson being Owen Wilson and, yes, Michael Caine being Michael Caine. The exceptions would include the hilariously loopy spin that John Turturro puts on Francesco, Emily Mortimer's marvelous Holley Shiftwell and several of the supporting players.

Additionally, there are moments of incredibly inspired spy spoofing, a few creative cultural references and even some new and funny car scenes that add entertainment value to Cars 2.

There's a terrific chance that you'll find yourself enjoying Cars 2, though for the majority of you it will be considerably less than the first film and, disappointingly, this is likely to be one film that the kids enjoy considerably less than the adults. That said, at its worst Pixar remains heads-and-tails above the majority of studios putting out animated features here in the U.S. and, even if it can be said that Cars 2 is one of its weakest entries to date it remains one of the better animated features of 2011 so far.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic 
    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
    • B: 3 Stars                         
    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

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