After last year’s Toy Story 3 was critically acclaimed, loved by fans and the first animated film to make over a billion dollars, it would have been a great feat for Pixar to outdo itself this year. With Cars 2, however, it seems like the film studio didn’t even try.
At first, the thought of Pixar making a sequel for Cars is perplexing. Cars has been called the studio’s worst film to date, although it’s still a slightly above-average film in general. It becomes clear Cars 2 wasn’t made to outshine the first; it was made to sell toys and cereal. After all, what’s easier to franchise than cars?
The style is colorful, sleek and targeted directly at kids. But that’s not to say it isn’t worth seeing. It doesn’t make the same mistake made in Cars, which tried to be deep and meaningful through telling the stale story of the fast-minded, self-absorbed jerk who is changed by the down-to-earth, small-town folks with hearts of gold.
Cars 2 doesn’t attempt to be deep and instead embraces its superficiality, which perhaps makes it better than its predecessor. Being the rare Pixar movie that actually feels cartoonish, it’s full of bright colors, multiple scene changes around the world, gadgets, action scenes and, of course, racing. In terms of plot and story, it’s essentially an animated spy film with the thin, underlying message of “be yourself.”
This time around, the protagonist is rusty tow truck Mater, who is voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. Mater is definitely a more likeable protagonist than Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) was in Cars, even though it’s hard to determine which one has the more annoying voice. It’s nice to see McQueen get comfortable in the backseat while Mater has his own adventure when he is mistaken to be the American contact by two British spy cars.
Mater might not be a spy movie archetype, but he does play the familiar well-meaning, bumbling hero. He’s a bit of an idiot, which gets annoying from time to time, but he’s lovable. Like all of the other characters, there’s nothing much to say about him; the characters are all one-dimensional and serve their purposes to move the story along.
That’s not to say they aren’t enjoyable. One of the most fun aspects of Cars is the voice actors. Michael Caine voices Finn McMissile, one of the British spies. Famed English comedian and actor Eddie Izzard voices Miles Axlerod, a former oil tycoon who is promoting his renewable fuel Allinol in the first World Grand Prix. John Turturro is nothing but entertaining as F1 car Francesco Bernouille, an Italian racecar who becomes McQueen’s racing rival and spouts arrogant and hilarious dialogue. Lastly, there’s Bruce Campbell, the famed B-movie star, who voices the actual American spy car.
In keeping with the spirit of spy films, Cars 2 has a number of recognizable archetypes such as the suave, old-school spy, the newbie and the evil German scientist.
The villains are a group of evil, vindictive lemons who feel as if they’ve been slighted by the world — and they have. The mastermind leading their cause, however, is revealed near the end in a surprising twist.
While Cars 2 is sleek, easy-going and fun, there’s one aspect that really hits home how little this film resonates with viewers. It’s death. Death is one of the many concepts that runs through Pixar’s veins. The presence of death is significant in its other films like Ratatouille, A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 3 as a way to let audience members know the consequences for the characters if things go wrong, but death fails to get a grip in Cars 2. A number of the characters die, but their deaths aren’t important. They do not register as real deaths because the characters are anthropomorphic vehicles. This is just another sign that Pixar made a bad decision for making not just one, but two films focusing on cars. There’s simply nothing heartwarming or human enough about them.
Cars 2 is a fun, barely above-average film. Older viewers can enjoy it once or twice, but it certainly won’t draw an older crowd like Toy Story 3 did. It’s all about the visuals, not the story, which is why it fails as a Pixar movie but still has a chance at the box office.
If anything, Cars 2 is worth seeing just for the hilarious Toy Story short that plays beforehand; not only is it good to those characters again, but it’s almost as if the short reminds viewers that Pixar still has the chops before they dive into the mediocre splash that is Cars 2.