So I went to watch Cars 2 with low expectations because of the massive negative reviews it received upon its release in the US. I love Pixar films and it was sad so to see that their streak of commercial and critical hits for over a decade ended with this movie (critically speaking only as the movie is still a bona fide blockbuster). I watched the movie with an open mind but the reviews were indeed right, Cars 2 is by a mile the weakest Pixar movie. With that said, the movie is still good enough because of its amazing animation, visual puns, and witty banter.
In Cars 2 tow truck Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) takes the center stage as Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) tags him along as he competes in an international race sponsored by Miles (Eddie Izzard), a business tycoon promoting alternative fuel. But due to Mater’s carefree nature he accidentally finds himself in the middle of a secret spy mission with British secret service agents Finn (Michael Caine) and Holly (Emily Mortimer).
Cars 2 is radically different from Cars in both structure and tone. While Cars take us on a gentle journey of appreciating the pleasures of slowing down, Cars 2 is a loud spy adventure with relentless energy. Lightning Queen which was the star of the first film was relegated to a supporting role to Mater and that for me is where the movie got it wrong. Mater is a fun character but only good in small doses but in this sequel he is the anchor of the story. His bumbling idiot shtick is lovable at first but becomes grating as it goes on although towards the end the character manages to redeem itself. The movie spent a lot of time with new characters as well and while they were interesting it would have been better if Lightning McQueen and the Radiator Springs folks had their shining moments because their presence was definitely missed in this movie.
The spy storyline is fascinating especially with its take on fuel conspiracy and corporate greed but I think it’s complicated for kids and got a little boring at some point. However, the way Pixar translated the spy action in this form was very impressive. The opening scene which is a standard spy movie action scene was flawless and gorgeous. Pixar also did a splendid job with the international race sequences as they gave vibrant and amusing interpretations of Japan, Italy, and London in the world of anthropomorphic cars. Moreover, they captured the world car racing atmosphere quite effectively here which I think would resonate well to race cars enthusiasts. Pixar is always good on details and those are clearly at work here. The 3D in the film is great thanks to the film's remarkable palette and well-structured designs.
What’s really missing with Cars 2 is an emotional attachment to the characters and their relationships. This is the only Pixar film that didn’t have that thought provoking moment that will pinch your heart. There’s an attempt to have that in this movie between Mater and Lightning McQueen but it didn’t work because the reason of their conflict was sloppily written, so when they had their realizations it felt disjointed and forced.
In hindsight, there’s actually a scene that I would consider a heart-tugging moment but it was short and not related to the core story. It was the scene addressing the absence of Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman) . The approach was subtle and didn’t elaborate any details but it moved me because it was emotional but grounded. And I wish Cars 2 had that kind of poignancy overall.
All in all, Cars 2 is a visual treat with a fun adventure storyline but those hoping for Pixar’s brand of compelling characters and sharp storyline will be disappointed. 7 / 10
***Cars 2 opens in the Philippines on August 24.