Been there, conquered that – For everything that Pixar Animation has done the past 16 years in film, the one thing they have succeeded with the most is originality. It’s rare to find a studio that doesn’t dial up sequels every chance they get, so the fact “Cars 2” only marks the second series for Pixar is quite impressive if you ask me.  And even with the announcement of “Monsters University,” a prequel to 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.,” this studio still is way ahead of the game and clearly head of their class. So, while it would be easy to say Pixar Animation took the easy way out with “Cars 2,” a sequel to mildly successful “Cars,” I simply can’t.

The story here…sort of picks up where we last off, only it’s been a few years and Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is coming off his fourth Piston Cup championship. Wanting to take a break for awhile, Lightning retires back to Radiator Springs to spend some downtime with his girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and best friend Mater (Larry The Cable Guy).  But, the break would be short lived once Mater calls into a talk show, furious, after watching Francesco Banoulli (John Turturro) brag about his F1 speed and how he was faster than McQueen.  Next thing Mater knew, he all but volunteered McQueen to accept Banoullui’s challenge to race in the World Grand Prix to help promote Allinol, a new renewable fuel invented by Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard).  Set in three different locations across the world, the two friends began their journey, but not too long after the first leg of the race, Mater gets pulled into some side spy caper led by Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) stretching the limits of he and Mcqueen’s friendship leading to a predictable, yet heartfelt conclusion only Pixar could pull off.

Who’s behind those voices? Anyone that happened to miss the first one back in 2006, the only members of the cast with prominent roles again was Larry The Cable Guy and Owen Wilson. Sure, Bonnie Hunt (voice of Sally), Cheech Marin (voice of Ramone), John Ratzenberger (voice of Mack) and Jenifer Lewis (voice of Flo) were all back, but this was not their film. This film was Mater’s and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise as virtually everything centered on the fan favorite. Even the side story with Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell ( voiced by Emily Mortimer) was all about Mater, so as much as I thought this film would equal out to a lot of McQueen and Mater, it wasn’t a 50 – 50 split. Instead, it was probably 60 – 40 in favor of Mater, which to many is OK when you figure he’s the most popular character.  And there’s no doubt Larry The Cable Guy has this character pegged, as I can’t imagine anyone generating the amount of laughs he has been able to produce all these years.  Yeah, Owen Wilson is great as McQueen, but let’s face it, when it comes to this series, no one will top Mater and the entertainment value he has brought to so many fans young and old.

A director’s touch – Yes, believe it or not there is a director to animated films and John Lasseter is pretty  much at the top of the list. Having been in or around this always changing CGI animation virtually his whole 30 plus year career, Lasseter knows how to make his characters come to life in an almost unimaginable way.  And that’s through writing, producing, directing and even animating; as he was often part of the creative talent early in his career.  And here I thought Christopher Nolan and James Cameron worked too hard.  With that said, Lasseter is not perfect and “Cars 2” shows what can happen when you fail to come up with that “great “ story, settling on “good” instead. That’s really the best I can describe this film, which if compared to most other animated features is leaps and bounds better. But, as most of us know, that’s just not realistic when it comes to Pixar as you really can only compare Pixar films to other Pixar films. That’s the bar the studio has set, so why cut them any slack?

Any other animated feature film would be held to a certain standard and for Pixar, one of their highest standards is the story and it’s heartfelt “message.”  For years their films have taken us on journey’s and left us wanting more with a whole lot to think about. That’s part of what makes Pixar so unique and rare, but even the best drop the ball sometimes. And while I certainly can’t come up with too many flaws with “Cars 2,” the one thing that would have done wonders for this film is to shorten its running time.  Any kids’ film that runs past 90 minutes is too long in my opinion, so even the paltry 113 minutes here was 23 minutes over what it should have been.  You never want kids to ask their parents if it’s almost over, but that’s precisely what my own 5-year-old son asked me roughly 20 minutes before it ended. Yeah, this installment was three minutes shorter than its predecessor, but that doesn’t change the fact some fat could have been cut out making this film a lot smoother and easier to digest. 

Bottom Line – Given the fact “Cars” has been the only Pixar film to not win the Oscar for ‘Best Animated Feature’ over the past seven years, one might wonder why a sequel was even made. Well, I got one answer for you, marketing. Think about how many “Cars” toys have been sold over the past five years and then go to any local retail outlet now to see the “Cars 2” displays. It’s ridiculous, but also brilliant, as even I can’t resist some of these toys that have been created from two films that truly are one of a kind.

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