Thursday, June 23, 2011
Review: "Cars 2"
So Pixar, the unfailing wunderkind of animated movies, has finally delivered its worst movie, by far. By that, I mean "Cars 2" is merely pretty good.
The sequel to the 2006 flick -- which many had regarded as the weakest in Pixar's lineup -- lacks the emotional oomph and layered appeal to grown-ups that is a hallmark of their oeuvre: "Finding Nemo," "Wall·E," etc.
"Cars 2" is left with lots of dazzling action scenes, slick-looking CG animation and plenty of goofy humor featuring Tow Mater, the garrulous redneck sidekick from the last movie who's been punched up to the main character. At least they had the decency to give Larry the Cable Guy, who provides the voice of Mater, top billing over Owen Wilson, who also returns as flashy race car Lightning McQueen.
It's notable that "Toy Story," Pixar's first feature film, is the only other franchise the animation studio has seen fit to sequelize. Whereas the "Toy Story" movies grew deeper and more sentimental each time, "Cars 2" seems flashy and hastily assembled.
I'm probably wandering into dangerous territory here, but this movie feels like it was made to give Disney a summer tent pole and to sell another billion dollars or two of toys and other merchandise. With last winter's "Toy Story 3," we could sense the heartfelt devotion the filmmakers put into visiting those characters again; I don't feel it here.
Director by Pixar chief John Lasseter from a script by Ben Queen, "Cars 2" is still a highly entertaining bit of animation, but the soul isn't filled by watching it.
(Speaking of the "Toy Story" gang, they're back from a brief visit with "Hawaiian Vacation," a fun 8-minute short cartoon that precedes the feature.)
The film is fast-paced, even occasionally hurried, and jumps around the globe like the international spy thriller it emulates. Lightning McQueen is challenged to participate in a three-race World Grand Prix held in Tokyo, Paris and London, with the title of fastest car in the world at stake.
His nemesis is Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), a loudmouthed Italian open-wheel racer whose fender-less good looks draw the attention of Sally (Bonnie Hunt), McQueen's special lady.
Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), a wealthy British energy tycoon, thinks he's found a green alternative to oil-based gasoline called Allinol, and want to use the races to drum up support for it.
But at the first race, Mater gets mistaken for an American super-spy, and is drawn into a nefarious plot that soon takes precedence over the racing. I won't divulge the details, but the clever upshot is that all the lemon cars of history -- Gremlins, Pacers, Yugos -- are behind it.
Mater's new allies are a pair of British agents: 007-ish Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), an Aston Martin decked out with all sorts of weapons and gizmos, and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), a smart rookie on her first assignment in the field.
The joke is the Brits think Mater's rube routine is a ploy -- "they're fooled because they're too busy laughing at the fool," is how Finn puts it -- without realizing he really is that dense.
That sets up a brief and not terribly convincing life-lessons moment about being true to yourself, but it carries so little weight it's practically a throwaway moment.
"Cars 2" is hardly a bad movie, and it's certainly an engaging piece of entertainment. But for the first time, Pixar didn't rev up to its highest gear.
3 stars out of four