Movie Review: Cars 2

By Matthew Huntley

June 30, 2011

We're going to run over Matthew later, aren't we? Yes, we are.

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In the world of Cars and now Cars 2, there live only transportation vehicles, no humans. All the cars, trucks, planes, trains, boats, etc. talk and have human personalities. Their world is just like ours, only with a machine industry spin (for instance, there’s a movie called The Incredimobiles instead of The Incredibles. Get it?).

I’m fully aware the Cars movies are supposed to be fun, silly and are aimed chiefly at kids and families, but alas, their world is simply one I cannot accept. It leaves me with too many burning questions. For instance, how did the very first car come to be? Who built it? How are the cars able to feel? Do they reproduce? Give birth? Who constructed all the buildings we see in these movies, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Are we supposed to believe a car did all that?

You’re probably thinking I have no business asking such questions about a movie with talking cars in it, not least because it makes no claims to be realistic, and because its primary function is to awaken the child inside me. But as an adult, I can’t help but crave some level of rationalism and ask why things are the way they are. I suppose I could have looked beyond all this if the Cars movies did a better job of winning me over with their stories, but here we are.

How could Pixar go so wrong with the Cars movies when they went so right with Toy Story, Ratatouille and Up, among others? The Cars movies seem to be the only instances where the filmmakers patronize the audience with cheap humor and puns instead of original, emotionally charged stories that are creative and unexpected. It’s rare to call a Pixar movie trite and predictable, or worse yet, cheap and derivative, but that’s unfortunately what Cars 2 is.

Like the original, the sequel is mostly a series of tired jokes and routine misadventures that drive the plot around a hackneyed moral lesson. Kids will probably love it in spite of this because it’s got bright colors, fast action and all their favorite characters are back from the first movie. But I think they would have liked it even more had it told a more imaginative story. All people appreciate good stories, and kids are simply little people. Movies like Cars 2 shouldn’t sell them short.


The movie finds Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) returning to the desert town of Radiator Springs after an extended racing tour. He’s taking a break because, as you’ll recall from the first movie, he learned the value of family, friends and taking time to smell the roses. He reunites with his girl Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and his best pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the rusted, dented tow truck with buck teeth.

On TV, Mater catches the Italian race car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) bragging about his speed and wanting to beat Lightning McQueen at the inaugural World Grand Prix. With the support of Mater and Sally, Lightning decides to compete in the race, which takes him to Japan, Italy and England.

All this is contained within a larger plot involving the automotive version of the British Secret Service and their mission to take down the evil Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann), who has sinister plans for his new secret weapon - a television camera that can send out electromagnetic pulses and destroy a car’s engine. Britain’s top spy, Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), and his fellow agent, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), suspect the Professor wants to undermine the effects of an alternative, bio-friendly fuel called Allinol and suggest it’s dangerous so that regular gasoline-powered cars can stay in power.

Mater tags along on the tour as one of Lightning’s crewmen and, through various misunderstandings, is mistaken for a spy. Lightning denounces him but spends the rest of the movie learning the error of his ways, while McMissile and Shiftwell believe Mater is simply a brilliant undercover agent. The plot extends the movie to an overlong 113 minutes as most of it meanders from one point to the next until it reaches a foregone conclusion. Dull is usually not a word used to describe a Pixar movie, but Cars 2 proves there’s a first time for everything.

Of course the movie looks great, but we’ve long since passed the point where a computer-animated feature can get by solely on its look and attention to detail. Nowadays, we have to be enveloped in the story, which hopefully advances our investment in the characters. The makers of Kung Fu Panda 2 knew this and capitalized on it wonderfully.

But the makers of Cars 2 seem more inclined to capitalize financially, rather than narratively, on Disney-Pixar’s most successful franchise. Heck, even before the movie, there was an ad for Purdue chicken nuggets, which were advertised because they now come in the shape of your favorite Cars characters! Has it really come to this? It leads me to believe most of the creative energy behind Cars 2 was put into its commercial potential, not its story. When we can sense that angle seeping in, it makes us think the filmmakers care less about entertaining us and more about selling us something. If that “something” is anything like the movie, do yourself a favor and don't buy it.



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