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Overall Rating
2.55

Awesome: 4.55%
Worth A Look: 18.18%
Average: 18.18%
Pretty Bad45.45%
Total Crap: 13.64%

6 reviews, 8 user ratings


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Cars 2
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by Peter Sobczynski

"We Shut Them Up And Then We Git Er Done."
3 stars

Over the past two decades, the Pixar animation studio has firmly established themselves as the most consistently successful production company, both from a financial and artistic standpoint, working today.Since debuting in 1995 with the groundbreaking "Toy Story," each one of their films has been an enormous box-office hit and inspired countless additional millions of dollars in merchandizing (not to mention legions of competitors trying, mostly without success, to follow in their footsteps) and with one exception, their efforts have received almost universal acclaim from both critics and audiences for their combination of eye-popping visuals, stories that are both funny and emotionally resonant and characters that, despite being nothing more than a complex series of 0's and 1's, that come across as far more recognizably human than the vast majority of the actual flesh-and-blood people who grace most movies these days. The lone spot on their otherwise impeccable record to date has been "Cars," a 2006 effort in which all of the characters were portrayed by anthropomorphized automobiles and enacted a story in which a hotshot and overly competitive race car learned about the simple joys of sitting back and smelling the roses while waylaid in a small town while on the way to a big race. While little kids loved it, as they pretty much do anything involving automobiles, it lacked the depth, humanity and nuance of their previous efforts and dragged on a little too long for its own good. Although a good deal of the disappointment was due to the film not meeting the high expectations set by their previous efforts, it was definitely Pixar's first misstep and, perhaps realizing that they slipped up a bit, they then rebounded with four wildly ambitious and incredibly entertaining instant masterpieces in a row in "Ratatouille," "WALL*E," "Up" and "Toy Story 3" to prove conclusively that they were back on track.

That said, while "Cars" may not have been an artistic triumph by any means, it made so much money for Pixar, especially in regards to merchandizing, that few people were surprised when it was announced that "Cars 2" was being launched into production and in a weird way, the notion of a follow-up film made sense. On the one hand, such an endeavor would be as close to a sure thing from a moneymaking perspective as can be but on the other hand, it would give them a chance to correct the mistakes that they made the first time around while for once working under the aegis of somewhat lowered expectations. As it turns out, "Cars 2" is another mixed bag of goods. It is definitely an improvement on the original--faster, fleeter and funnier without any of the sanctimony that often bogged down its predecessor. And yet, it once again lacks the complexity and humanity of Pixar's previous achievements--replacing them with silly jokes and a surprising amount of violent action (albeit of the cartoonish variety)--and like its predecessor, it often feels more like a one-shot short subject stretched to feature length than a fully formed story. The result is a film that is watchable enough, I suppose, but one that is so essentially inessential that it frequently comes across like the world's most expensive and elaborate direct-to-video sequel, the kind of shelf-filling product developed almost entirely to continue making money off the franchise without interfering with the previously established theatrical canon.

The story opens as the now-humble racing giant Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returns home to the quaint little town of Radiator Springs after a long tour on the circuit with plans to do nothing more than relax for a while with best pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, still doing absolutely nothing even vaguely cable-related) and sweetheart Sally (Bonnie Hunt), even going so far as to turn down a shot at running in the World Grand Prix, a three-part race featuring cars from all over the world being sponsored by Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard), an oil tycoon who is using the contest to debut a brand-new eco-friendly fuel that could revolutionize the world if it actually works. However, after being goaded by flamboyant open-wheel racer Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) Lightning decides to participate after all and brings Mater along as part of his crew. Unfortunately, Mater's exuberance and overwhelming desire to help his pal combined with his cheerful ignorance regarding foreign customs (such as mistaking wasabi for pistachio ice cream with predictable results--maybe not so predictable if one begins contemplating the notion of autos with taste buds) cause him to screw things up time after time and before long, Lightning finally loses his temper and the resulting blow up causes Mater to leave. Of course, despite being perfectly within his bounds, Lightning immediately regrets everything he said and worries if he will ever see his friend again.

While all of this is going on, there are doings afoot as it turns out that a mysterious villain is planning to sabotage the World Grand Prix and Axelrod's plans for his new fuel by exploiting an apparent flaw in its makeup--it seems to explode at high temperatures--in order to prevent it from ever being sold. Hot on the trail of the bad guys is Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), a super-spy who sounds like Harry Palmer and acts like James Bond, or at least like one of James Bond's cars, and along for the ride is rookie field agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Through complications too silly to get into here, the two spies mistake Mater, who is unwittingly carrying a key piece of evidence regarding the plot against Axelrod, as a fellow super spy who has brilliantly disguised himself as a clueless but essentially good-hearted dope. The two story lines eventually converge on the streets of London as (Spoiler Alert!) the diabolical plot is finally revealed and Mater races against time to reunite with his best pal and prevent him from blowing up real good.

By largely abandoning the premise of the original "Cars" and placing its characters smack dab in the middle of a broad goof on the spy movie genre, "Cars 2" at least starts things off on the right foot but as it goes on, many of the same problems that hobbled the original begin to crop up once again. The chief flaw, and I realize that this may sound a little silly when discussing an animated movie aimed mostly at kids, is that it lacks the verisimilitude that made the other Pixar efforts both entertaining and relatable despite their fantasy trappings--even though they involved such fantastical concepts as sentient toys, gourmet rats and a house floating through the air on balloons, the stories always had a grounding in the real world that made them believable. By comparisons, the world of "Cars" is apparently inhabited entirely by machines but there is no explanation of how this came to be, how the cars continue to exist or what happens to them down the line (the latter absence makes for an exceptionally awkward moment when the story stops to pay tribute to Doc, the 1951 Hudson Hornet voiced in the first film by the late Paul Newman) and as a result, it is impossible to relate to the characters as anything other than as silly gimmicks. The problem isn't quite as pronounced this time as around as it was with the first film since the whole story is just a silly and soulless spy spoof but the absence of heart that Pixar has demonstrated so ably in the past does bring things down a bit.

That said, as silly and soulless spy spoofs go, "Cars 2" has its moments here and there. As always, the look of the film is bright and beautiful (those somewhat less so if you make the mistake of catching it in its unnecessary 3D incarnation) and the action sequences are reasonably exciting, though some of them, while essentially cartoonish, may be a little too intense for the youngest viewers (and boy is it weird to see a Pixar film featuring so many guns a-blazing throughout). Because the focus has shifted this time from Radiator Springs to Japan and Europe and from Lightning to Mater, that means that Owen Wilson has only a supporting role at best and most of the others from the original are largely absent while Larry the Cable Guy is pushed front and center in a move that will no doubt test the patience of those who actually enjoy his schtick, let alone those who find his antics to be largely unendurable. Luckily, his antics are balanced out by nice vocal turns from Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer as the good guy spies and a hilarious one from Turturro as the oily Francesco in what sounds like a PG-rated goof on his memorable turn as Jesus in the cult classic "The Big Lebowski." Perhaps most importantly, especially in comparison to the original film that simply didn't know when to end, "Cars 2" doesn't stretch things out unnecessarily--it is over and done in about 90 minutes or so and I suspect that if it had gone on for much longer, whatever tentative warm feelings that I had would have begun to quickly dissipate.

"Cars 2" is not a particularly great movie on its own terms and especially not when compared to Pixar's other achievements--it is easily the weakest of the lot with the sole exception of the original "Cars"--but while I can understand those critics who will surely roast it for being nothing more than an easy cash grab from a studio that normally prides itself on being far more ambitious, I still find myself feeling warmly enough towards it to warrant a mild recommendation (not that it matters as this is almost certainly destined to be one of the biggest hits of the season). Part of this may be because, as I said earlier, despite its numerous failings, it is still an improvement on "Cars." Part of this may be because having just endured a recent string of utterly horrendous family-oriented films lacking any sort of genuine entertainment value, even something as middling as this looks much better in comparison to the hideous likes of "Judy Moody" or that penguin nonsense with Jim Carrey. Perhaps it is best to look at the "Cars" movies as cinematic sorbets that allow Pixar to cleanse their artistic palates and recharge their batteries for their next series of films. Considering what they came up after the first one, I can't wait to see what's next from them and if those future efforts are as strong as the likes of "Ratatouille" and "Up," not only will I cheerfully forgive them for "Cars 2," I will even forgive them in advance for the all-but-inevitable "Cars 3."

A couple of final notes. 1.) At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to reiterate that if you have the option of seeing "Cars 2" in 2D instead of 3D, you should take it--the extra dimension offers viewers nothing more than a premium on the ticket price and the 2D version allows the colors to shine as brightly as they were originally intended. 2.) As I mentioned before, there is a lot of action on display here, not to mention a surprising amount of gunfire, and while it pales in comparison to most of the summer blockbusters, it may be a little too much for some of the wee ones. 3.) If you do go, be sure to get to the theater on time because preceding the film is a new animated short featuring the "Toy Story" gang and while it lacks the emotional punch of the films--it is a bit of nonsense in which the toys band together to whip up an ersatz Hawaiian vacation for Ken and Barbie--it does have a few big laughs and even a surprisingly graceful note or two as well.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20583&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/24/11 13:00:00
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User Comments

10/26/11 ashley rexrode my kids really enjoyed this movi 5 stars
10/19/11 Magic A Larry Cable Guy movie. It's also a Pixar movie, but a Cable Guy movie nonetheless. Dammit 3 stars
8/11/11 Quang Thịnh Not better than the first one but it's quite good 2 stars
8/05/11 Robert Trebor Whoa! I fell asleep three times, and I saw the 3-D version! 2 stars
7/31/11 Quigley Easily my least favorite Pixar film. Long, boring and unfunny, but visuals are amazing. 3 stars
7/14/11 savvysweep1 funny movie especially for the kids 5 stars
6/30/11 Kim Phan I liked it. But than again, I'm a big fan of the first one~ 4 stars
6/26/11 Jennifer Barr kids loved it 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  24-Jun-2011 (G)
  DVD: 01-Nov-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  24-Jun-2011
  DVD: 01-Nov-2011




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