What makes Pixar so great is that their animated films are appealing to both adults and children. The films are sophisticated and charming, marrying profound thoughts with laugh-out-loud humor. Their latest release is Cars 2 and it comes off as something of a disappointment, especially when compared to the seemingly unending production line of masterpieces, the likes of Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, and Up.
A sequel to the 2006 original Cars, this latest vehicle-themed comedy switches its protagonist from racing star Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) to his simple-minded best friend Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Mater accompanies Lightning McQueen to his next race: The World Grand Prix, which features races in Japan, Italy and England.
If the plot sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Cars 2 tries to do too much and the results make your head spin. The movie wants to be a clever spoof of the spy genre but the actual spoofing never quite materializes. Rather it gets bogged down when the movie focuses on the friendship between Tow Mater and Lightning McQueen, as well as on the mini-rivalry between McQueen and Italian racer, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). What is even more unsettling is that this movie is shockingly violent, with cars exploding all over the shop.
With all this globe-trotting, not enough time is spent in Radiator Springs, which is a shame. Cars, though not perfect, had such a winning small-town American feel that gets trampled on by this need to be bigger and better. Cars 2 barely even feels like it takes place in the same universe and it doesn’t help that the beloved characters from the first one arrive for two-line cameos and then are forgotten.
Also, the decision to make Mater the protagonist was not a smart one. He isn’t a complex enough character to carry the movie. The message of the movie is “be yourself” but it’s a little off-putting when Mater is shown to be so ignorant, childish and incompetent. He doesn’t really grow as a character either, unlike McQueen did in Cars.
While kids might enjoy the simple humor (Mater sings the State Farm jingle! Mater thinks wasabi is pistachio ice cream!), there really isn’t anything to take away from the movie. And with a running approaching two hours, the movie overstays its welcome, frankly. With sequels to Monster Inc., The Incredibles, and even potentially another Toy Story in development, we can only hope that this textbook example of diminishing returns is not indicative of the future direction of our beloved Pixar.