Cars 2 (2011)

“If it ain’t broke, make a James Bond rip-off.” Perhaps that’s not the actual saying, but that’s the one that the people behind the Cars movies have decided to use. The first Cars wasn’t exactly Pixar‘s best movie, and Cars 2 isn’t going to compete for that prize, either. In fact, both of them might be battling for the most mediocre. Neither is exactly bad, but they’re both lacking in areas that Pixar movies usually excel, and they both feel very much for children, not for families.

In fact, with Cars 2 especially, it feels like it was made simply to sell more Cars merchandise. The toys from the first film did such incredible business that the box office totals didn’t even matter. I mean, people saw it, and if they didn’t it wouldn’t have sold as much merchandise, but in the grand scheme of things, the money it made in theaters was only a small percentage of the total gross. So, a Cars 2 was inevitable. And since the first movie was a rip-off of Doc Hollywood, the sequel is a rip-off of a generic spy movie.

Our lead character has changed, presumably because Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) was a popular character and because Owen Wilson, who voices Lightning McQueen, costs more money per voiceover session. Both characters are in the film and, for a while, it looks like Lightning, the racecar, will once again be our lead. But instead, we get to see Mater, a tow truck, become entangled in a spy movie plot. He’s brought in by Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) and gets to do a bunch of spy stuff.

Why? Because there’s a three-race competition going on, and there are bad guys who want to sabotage it. The competition uses a certain kind of alternative fuel which is perfectly safe unless it’s shot with an electromagnetic pulse. So, the bad guys do that. The real spies think Mater is one of them and that his “dumb tow truck” persona is just a disguise. Mater then has to help them save the race and, as importantly, save Lightning McQueen, who gets a B-story involving an Italian rival (John Turturro).

Cars 2 is about as perfectly mediocre as the first Cars movie.

At least Cars 2 is about things. It focuses a lot on Mater having to learn to be himself—after having it pointed out to him how he’s kind of a dumb tow truck—and, of course, there’s that whole thing about alternative fuel, which is so topical and on-the-nose that it’ll make you laugh. None of it feels heartfelt or true, but its themes at least put it slightly ahead of some animated children’s movies.

Unfortunately, just like its predecessor, that’s exactly what Cars 2 feels like: a children’s movie. Prior to Cars, and even after Cars, the Pixar-released films contained elements for both children and adults. Teenagers, too, if you don’t want to classify them as “children.” They really are “family” films, meaning that every member of the family can find a rich and enjoyable movie, regardless of age. With the Cars movies, that’s missing. They’re very much just for the children—and the younger children, at that. I mean, you’re not likely to hate them if you’re an adult, but the difference between something like Cars 2 and Up is astonishing.

At least the voice work is perfectly fine. Much of the original cast returns for this one—although Paul Newman sadly passed away between films, as did George Carlin—and new additions like Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro and Eddie Izzard are welcome additions. Still, a good way to determine if you’re going to like Cars 2 is whether or not you like Larry the Cable Guy—or his performance in the first film. If you do, then go for it. If he gets on your nerves, skip it.

Cars 2 is about as perfectly mediocre as the first Cars movie. It rips off either a movie or a genre of movies—in this case, spy/James Bond movies—it’ll entertain the kids, it has a couple of on-the-button themes, and it is serviceable but not a necessary watch. One can’t help but think cynically about why it was made, given the merchandise sales the first film did, but we still got a movie that’s not a chore to watch, even if it’s not up to most of Pixar’s previous movies.

Conclusion: Cars 2 is certainly different from its predecessor, but it’s still not very good.

Recommendation: Only watch if you saw the first Cars movie.

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