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"Cars 2" Review: Pixar Trades Charm For Violence

Whitney Bratton |
June 25, 2011 | 4:15 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Explosions, violence, and Pixar, oh my! (Photo from teaser-trailer.com)
Explosions, violence, and Pixar, oh my! (Photo from teaser-trailer.com)
Pixar has built itself an enviable reputation as a reliable source of family friendly, high-quality storytelling, but when it comes to “Cars 2,” that wonderful Pixar charm somehow went amiss.

Where the first Pixar movie, “Cars,” got its power boost from a cast of loveable, quirky characters in small town Radiator Springs, “Cars 2” instead downshifts to rely on lowbrow humor, a heavy dose of spy movie tropes, and pacing designed to entertain even the most ADHD kid in the theater.

Most astonishing, though, was the prevalence of guns, bombs, electrocution, cars-beating-up-other-cars in the bathroom, and other generalized violence not especially appropriate for its G-rating.

Where the first "Cars" movie was all about slowing down and remembering that the journey is more important than the destination, "Cars 2" launches on a high-octane roadtrip across the globe, introducing new makes and models (with all their eccentricities), and engaging in a spy thriller premise completely at odds with the values of Cars 1.

The story opens with a James Bond style infiltration of a field of oil rigs by an Aston Martin named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), who gets a glimpse of the villain, Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann), before narrowly escaping with the help of an arsenal of weapons and gadgets.

From there the story cuts back to the slow life in Radiator Springs, where the hero from Cars 1, the racecar Lightening McQueen (Owen Wilson), has just returned home with his fourth “Piston Cup” win.  Notably absent from the scene is his mentor from the first film, “Doc” Hudson, whose voice-actor Paul Newman has since passed away.

But the hero of "Cars 2" is not McQueen, it is the loveable rusty tow truck, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who played a comedic sidekick in the first film.  Mater has always been a strange truck, driving the thin line between annoying and innocent, but in "Cars 2" he crosses the median completely and his cluelessness and lack of social sophistication begin to (no pun intended) drive away his friends.

The story focuses on friendship and trust, but ultimately the message is confusing.  “Be yourself,” seems to be the official line, but what that means is uncertain: Mater comes across as irritating, crude, and prone to inappropriate outbursts—and the message is that this is okay so long as Mater isn’t faking it?

All this is not to say that "Cars 2" has no redeeming qualities.  There are a myriad of clever puns, plot twists, and one-liners (you’ve probably heard some of them already in the trailer).  The international atmosphere allows for a parade of unusual cars, both old and new, famous and obscure.  The global dialog surrounding renewable, alternative, and “green” fuel sources is appropriate to the times, and plays off both consumer and auto industry anxiety about making the switch from fossil fuel to electric powered engines.

The idea of integrating ‘lemons,’ (cars that never work quite the way they should), was ingenious, and allowed for a smattering of delightful mechanic technobabble to spill from Mater’s otherwise uneducated mouth and redeem him somewhat in terms of intelligence.

Even without paying extra for the 3D experience, "Cars 2’s" vibrant settings, both international and local, popped from the screen with lush lighting and texture.  The camera seemed to move effortlessly through a real-life world, and included an exhilarating flying-over-London scene that would put Peter Pan to shame.

"Cars 2" also included several celebrity cameos, disguised as cars of course, including NASCAR drivers Darrell Waltrip as Darrell Cartrip and Jeff Gordon as Jeff Gorvette; British racecar/Formula 1 drivers David Hobbs as David Hobbscap and Lewis Hamilton as himself; and sportscaster Brent Musburger as Brent Mustangburger.

This is a film for mechanics, NASCAR dads, car lovers, Bond fans and anyone who wants to spend an hour with Larry the Cable Guy.  Just don’t be surprised when Mater whips out a Gatling gun and starts firing indiscriminately into a crowd of Gremlins and Pacers.  After all, who hasn’t at some point in their life wanted to do just that when their car won’t start in the morning?


Contact Whitney Bratton here.



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