By now, we’ve all heard the assertion that Cars 2 is Pixar’s first truly bad movie. Alas, it’s true. It was bound to happen at some stage, though, as the studio had spent almost two decades producing one modern animated classic after another…but it’s tragic that Pixar’s worst, dullest picture had to come right after the superlative Toy Story 3. The original Cars from 2006 was the studio’s lowest grossing and most critically unfavourable movie, rendering the sequel a baffling idea. However, in terms of merchandising profits, Cars was one of Pixar’s most successful ventures. Cars 2 was therefore made purely for the toy sales, and this fact is exemplified in every lazy frame of this sluggish disappointment. While the first Cars was a low-key story about cars and small, forgotten American towns, this sequel is an action/spy comedy lacking in emotional depth, thematic complexity, and Pixar magic.
After winning the Piston Cup for the fourth time, Lightning McQueen (Wilson) returns to Radiator Springs. His break is short-lived, though, as McQueen decides to compete in the World Grand Prix after being challenged by arrogant Italian formula 1 race car Francesco (Turturro). And for the trip, McQueen brings along his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). As McQueen struggles to stay focused for the tough races, Mater is accidentally mistaken for a spy by British secret agents Finn McMissile (Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Mortimer). As Mater becomes sucked into the world of international espionage, a devious plot emerges that’s tied to the Grand Prix and the introduction of an alternative fuel source produced by millionaire racing enthusiast and green power advocate Sir Miles Axlerod (Izzard).
With globetrotting spy concerns taking centre stage in Cars 2, Lightning McQueen is relegated to a supporting character in what should be his own story, while his Radiator Springs family get mere cameo appearances. (McQueen’s love interest, Sally (Hunt), is barely in the film at all.) Unfortunately, Mater was called upon to fulfil protagonist duties, and the results are dire. Cars 2 is nothing but a loud, obnoxious action film first and foremost, with a script full of shootouts, explosions and a huge array of weaponry, not to mention unfunny slapstick situations involving Mater. Indeed, parents expecting a sweet, family-friendly story about friendship or any other Pixar values will walk away bewildered. The move appears to be for the sake of expanding the appeal to the lucrative teenage market weaned on over-the-top action movies, but by doing this they sacrificed everything that Pixar is about. Perhaps if Cars 2‘s story focused on Lightning McQueen’s Grand Prix exploits, his rivalry with Francesco, his relationship with Sally, and his friendship with Mater while also examining the exploits of Radiator Springs characters, then it could have been a worthy Pixar entry. What we’ve been given instead is a soulless smash-’em-up with direct-to-DVD storytelling.
Of course, as with all of Pixar motion pictures, Cars 2 admittedly benefits from gorgeously vibrant animation and dynamic photography. Even at its worst, this is a stunning movie to behold, with racing scenes and set-pieces constituting the only saving graces of this otherwise lifeless husk. But much like the original film, Cars 2 is better seen than heard. Bridging the exciting sequences are laborious scenes of drab exposition that no animation – no matter how succulent – can redeem. Additionally, one cannot in any seriousness classify Cars 2 as a comedy because there’s literally no belly-laughs. Pretty much the only jokes the filmmakers had in their arsenal are of the “If [blank] was a car” variety (not to mention a goddamn fart joke). With dull dialogue and no big comedic payoffs, the movie is nothing but an aloof snoozer which tarnishes Pixar’s good name.
Larry the Cable Guy’s loyal fans (all five of them) may be overjoyed by the actor’s promotion to lead role, but it’s bad news for the rest of us. It isn’t long before the performer’s shtick and one-note vocal performance becomes comparable to fingernails on a chalkboard. Owen Wilson, meanwhile, sounds positively uninterested as Lightning McQueen. Admittedly, though, a few of the newcomers enlighten the script from time to time. The always-reliable Michael Caine makes his role of Finn McMissile rather engaging and interesting, while Emily Mortimer is lovely as agent Holley Shiftwell. The standout is John Turturro, who nailed the role of Francesco and is the source of the film’s only worthwhile laughs.
Cars 2 occasionally comes alive, but there’s no getting around the enterprise’s overlong nature and general lack of iconic Pixar moments. Perhaps the effort would’ve been passable if it wasn’t Pixar, but this utter mediocrity being released by such a renowned studio makes it an unforgivable sin. The studio produced Cars 2 purely for the merchandising profits, so let’s hope that Pixar only sold out momentarily to amass suitable funds to embark on many more original, innovative projects in the future.
And for the record, theatrical showings of Cars 2 were prefaced with a Toy Story short entitled Hawaiian Vacation. It runs for less than 6 minutes, but it’s funnier, wittier, brighter and more enjoyable than Cars 2, and has more iconic moments of Pixar brilliance in its 6-minute runtime than Cars 2 has in its entire 110-minute runtime.