'Cars 2': Technically dazzling sequel runs out of (laughing) gas
A movie review of "Cars 2," Pixar's latest animated offering. Though technically dazzling and often thoroughly sweet, it's no "Up," "Ratatouille" or even the original 2006 "Cars."
Seattle Times movie critic
'Cars 2,' with the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Bonnie Hunt, John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin. Directed by John Lasseter, from a screenplay by Ben Queen. 112 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.
A disappointing Pixar movie is a strange thing; like a sunny Seattle day in June, it doesn't come along very often. And a review of a disappointing Pixar movie is hard to write, because even a not-great Pixar movie is still better than most movies out there, and because, after years of being thrilled and moved and charmed by the studio's offerings, it just doesn't feel right to be offering anything other than praise.
But "Cars 2," though technically dazzling and often thoroughly sweet, is a bit of a letdown — it's no "Up," or "Ratatouille," or even the original 2006 "Cars," which found a pleasantly low-key groove that made it different from the other Pixar offerings.
This sequel, many years in the making, trades the small-town calm of Radiator Springs for a frantic round-the-world spy plot. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), the likable red race car, travels overseas with his best friend, tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), to participate in the World Grand Prix. In Tokyo for the first race, Mater gets entangled with an elaborate espionage scheme, led by the sleekly mustached Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and the sexy Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who's sort of what a Bond Girl would be if she were a car. Off they hurtle to Italy, France and England, for car-race action, spy capering and an ultimate lesson about the importance of standing by your friends.
As always, every frame is rendered so beautifully you wish you could pause it: the uncanny wetness of the ocean waves as Finn performs a daring oil-rig maneuver; the glowing lights of nighttime Paris; the sparkling sunshine on Corsica streets as cars zoom through; the gentle gray mists of London. (Note, though, that the 3D effects are very subtle; my guess is that you wouldn't miss a thing by seeing this movie in 2D.)
But director John Lasseter and screenwriter Ben Queen have missed something along the way: "Cars 2" simply isn't very funny. That's not an essential Pixar element — "WALL*E" wasn't exactly a laugh riot, and the best moments of "Up" weren't funny in the slightest — but it does seem important for this kind of movie, which substitutes zippy action for poignancy. The emphasis on the character of Mater requires a fairly high tolerance for Larry the Cable Guy's charms (which, since Mater is written as kind of a dolt, wear thin quickly), and while Caine and Mortimer are a kick, I found myself missing the ensemble left back home at Radiator Springs. And the movie doesn't end as much as slowly sputter to a halt, like a car engine breathing its last.
None of this is fatal to the movie, particularly to the kids who will be thrilled by all the race action — "Cars 2" will find a wide audience, and deservedly so. But the movie is an interesting reminder of how very, very high the Pixar wizards have set the bar. Sometimes they make masterpieces; sometimes, as in this case, they just make pretty good movies.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
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