As Summer heads forward the franchises continue to roll out. With so many sequels releasing as 2011 gets underway it’s hard for one to warrant any reason to see these. Pixar clearly treats their sequels differently. They’ve proven with the Toy Story series that they can create sequels that stand on a similar level in terms of quality with their peers, and Cars 2 marks their first foray into sequels outside of their flagship series. As I walked into the theater I carried this knowledge with trepidation. I was never a huge fan of the first Cars movie, I found it okay but still on the lower level of what Pixar is capable, mainly due to an emphasis on a rather annoying main character and jokes deemed hilarious because they were coming out of a hick tow truck voiced by Larry The Cable Guy. So basically my expectations were low, not just because sequels tend to fall into the “okay” category for most films but also this was a sequel that I wasn’t really demanding (come on, Pixar, where’s my Ratatouille or The Incredibles sequel already?!). But Pixar has proven that they’ve done something magical once again.
The film starts off with a bit of a twist. Audiences may think they’re in a different Cars 2 altogether with the opening sequence, watching spy car Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) perform a spy intelligence operation. Shortly after the main characters are back in the fold, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) competing in a world Grand Prix race with the help of his tow truck sidekick Mater (Larry The Cable Guy). What starts off typical enough as a film about racing again and the friendship between these two odd characters slowly becomes a spy-action movie and is all the better for it. Gone are the barren landscapes and locales of Radiator Springs in the first movie and instead directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis paint their Cars canvas at an international scale, putting the Cars touch on every major country of the world. The effect is not only necessary but a wise choice for the story. Instead of focusing on oddball characters in the small American town the film is allowed to breath new life into its characters by putting them into suspenseful and awkward situations over the globe. I dare anyone to think of the Pope the same way after seeing the film if you catch a very quick sight gag in the film. Thrown into this is also a commentary on world energy and a detailed story that even the characters have to stop and explain every now and then, which is a good thing. Good luck with any kids figuring it out as it goes along, but there is plenty for them here too.
In the first film Mater played the sidekick to Lightning McQueen and both characters seemed rather annoying to me, the jokes very one-note and not really providing any insight into anything beyond the characters just being an odd match. In Cars 2 they instead are no longer the butt of any jokes but in on them too, with Mater ending up being more of the main character this time around and McQueen’s race story playing second fiddle. This may sound either great or horrible depending on one’s interest in the franchise. Fret not, the choice is clearly the better one to take, Caine and Larry The Cable Guy having many great scenes full of misdirection and action with one another (I never thought I would include both of those actors in the same sentence in my life but it appears it’s happened).
The script is tighter this time around. By sticking to the spy story not only are more interesting situations set up that don’t involve McQueen’s ego (which is absent now) and instead awkward and funny scenarios involving gathering intelligence or fighting other cars take place and are all effective. The animators outdo themselves here, the attention to detail so fine it’s uncanny. Each car really represents the personality and voice performing and is indistinguishable from the next. Many actors show up to lend their talents, from Eddie Izzard, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Joe Mantegna, Tony Shalhoub, Jeff Garlin, Bruce Campbell and so many more. The people running casting at Pixar are clearly people with a wide variety of tastes, this is a great group of voices all giving very animated performances (pun so intended). The film’s faults lie in a few unnecessary story stops, the ending may be too corny for some and the film as a whole seems 15 minutes too long (at least one of the chase scenes could have been cut or something), but I’m nitpicking too much. What is here is very entertaining. If you, like me, wasn’t too impressed with the first Cars, I couldn’t recommend Cars 2 more for you to try out to turn your opinion around. If you loved the first one on the other hand you’ll probably love this one too. Go in with an open mind and don’t nitpick. Cars 2 is fun no matter how you approach it, one of the hardest feats any sequel can accomplish.