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AP Photo/Disney/Pixar, File
In this image released by Disney-Pixar, animated characters Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, foreground left, Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, center, and Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine, right, are shown in a scene from “Cars 2.” Cars 2” cruised to a No. 1 finish with a $68 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday, June 26, 2011. That makes 12 wins in a row for Pixar since 1995’s “Toy Story.”

‘Cars 2’

Pixar delivers a lemon

Posted: June 30, 2011 - 10:02am

“Cars 2”
Pixar Animation Studios
1 hour, 52 minutes

Well, it finally happened. I didn’t think it would — I had faith, but I was wrong. Pixar, storytelling geniuses though they are, have finally delivered a dud.

It seemed farily unlikely that this would happen. Even the one Pixar movie I didn’t like, “Ratattouile,” was a very well-wrought story, except for one dumb element (the rat pulls the kid’s hair to make him move? C’mon!). And everyone else on the planet loved that movie. But the consensus on this latest, “Cars 2,” seems to be in. The action-packed continuing adventure of Lightning McQueen and his friend Tow Mater, just isn’t all that great.

Of course, it’s kind of a sliding scale. The movie looks beautiful, delivers laughs and thrills galore, and delighted my 3-year-old like all get out, and for any other kids movie, I might have given the filmmakers a pass, but Pixar has set the bar high, and this movie just doesn’t make it.

“Cars 2” starts out some five years after the original left off. Radiator Springs is a hopping little tourist attraction, thanks to the notoriety and fame of it’s most well-known resident, the aforementioned Mr. McQueen. Lightning, who’s on the road a lot, makes regular visits home specifically to see his sweetheart Sally and his best pal Mater. But Mater is proving to be extremely clingy and it’s beginning to wear a little on the friendship. Matters are not helped when Mater, in an attempt to defend his pal’s honor, inadvertently obligates McQueen to participate in a major multi-city global Grand Prix to promote a new environmentally friendly bio-fuel.

Lightning may have his hands full trying to beat the obnoxious Italian Formula-One car favored to win the race, but Mater will have even more on his plate when he’s mistaken for an international super-spy. What follows are races, chases, and more action-packed mayhem than a Jason Bourne movie. And what does all that flash add up to? Not much.

The problem is that, unlike most Pixar movies, which have a lot to say, both on the surface and in the subtext, “Cars 2” seems to be about nothing but explosions and sight gags. The vague theme on the power of friendship is paper thin, and the secret agent stuff, though kind of cool, is completely unbelievable. Owen Wilson has very little to do other than sound irritated or concerned. Larry the Cable Guy, as Mater, has a much bigger role here, and though he does fine, again, what besides the tired old “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” message are we supposed to take away? Two new characters, British spies Finn McMissile and Holly Shifwell, played by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer, are fun and I kind of wish they were in a different movie. I liked the gadgets and the James Bond pacing, but felt it was completely wrong for a “Cars” movie. 

Unlike most sequels, “Cars 2” feels completely different from the original. It’s a complete 180˚ shift in tone and style. For one, “Cars 2” is kind of violent. For a parent who’s seen the first “Cars” at least a dozen times, to see vehicular death in the first five minutes was more than a little off-putting. I’m not saying it’s gory or particularly scary, necessarily, but just not what you would expect. In fact, I would compare, at least in content, “Cars 2” more to “The Incredibles” than to it’s predecessor. The difference is that not only is “Incredibles” fantastically written and deeply emotional, it’s also rated PG. “Cars 2” is rated G, but the rating is misleading. Another problem is that the story, while only an inch deep, is so full of twists and intrigue that I was lucky to keep up - I’m sure most of it goes over the heads of the kids in the audience. A good thing, too, because the other odd thing about this film is that it has a strangely anti-environmental message. For a movie that needed no political stance of any kind, “Cars 2” feels like it takes one, awkwardly, at the end of the film.

This movie will do what it’s meant to do, and I guess that will rate it a success in the eyes of some. Many of the children that my kids know already have the various toys from the movie, and it’s only been out a couple of days.

There will be merchandising galore, and I’m sure parents will line up around the block to take the little ones to see this blatant piece of marketing. Sure, by other standards, “Cars 2” is a fun kiddie flick, but Pixar has taught us to expect more, and that I do, from them and from the other studios they’ve influenced.

Let’s just hope the Disney money-machine hasn’t finally grabbed the reins of this vaunted animation house. There are several other films on the slate, including a princess-style fantasy called “Brave,” a sequel to “Monsters, Inc.” which takes the monsters back to their college days, and there’s even rumors of an “Incredibles” sequel and more “Toy Story” movies. Maybe “Cars 2” is the fluke, and all of the previously mentioned movies will be great. Maybe.

Grade: C

“Cars 2” is rated G for action violence, a relatively mild scene of torture, and mild language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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