So when Dash heard there was going to be a Cars 2, we knew we’d be going to see it the moment it hit theaters. It’s Pixar, they’re characters our family loves, and it’s based on Pixar’s most kid-friendly film. It’s bound to be great, right?
Star racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his best friend, tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), head overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix. But the road to the championship is filled with potholes, detours, and surprises when Mater gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own: international espionage. Torn between assisting Lightning McQueen in the high-profile races and being part of a top-secret spy mission, Mater's journey leads him on explosive chases through the streets of Japan and Europe, trailed by his friends and watched by the whole world.
In various interviews, Cars 2 director (and Pixar co-founder and Disney/Pixar Chief Creative Officer) John Lassetter has said he wanted to do something completely different with this sequel compared to the original.
And therein lies the problem.
Cars 2 is far removed from what made the original so endearing (even if Cars is basically Doc Hollywood with wheels). Cars 2 is driven entirely by plot, not character – the complete antithesis of any Pixar film that came before it. To make matters worse, the plot (a battle of alternative fuel vs. oil) is far too complex and adult-centric for children to follow, much less care about.
In terms of characters, the old gang from Radiator Springs is back, but almost incidentally: Luigi, Guido, Fillmore, and Sarge join the adventure, but we only see the rest of the gang at the beginning and end of the film. Development of the main characters is also at a minimum: There are occasional hints at the special friendship of McQueen and Mater, but the sentiment quickly vanishes and we’re off to the races again (literally).
Then there’s the noise factor. While it’s expected that McQueen’s three big races will have loud engines, screeching tires, and an occasional crash, the remainder of Cars 2 is flooded with booming explosions, unrelenting action, and extended scenes of bullet-spraying violence.
The screenplay by first-time Pixar scribe (and second-time feature film writer) Ben Queen feels like it was commissioned rather than crafted. There’s near-zero character depth, and jokes often feel like they’re pulled from a sitcom, relying too often on toilet humor and double entendre.
On the plus side: In true Pixar fashion, Cars 2 is visually gorgeous, especially the Tokyo segment. There are grown-up jokes about VIN numbers, Japanese culture, and airport security that hit the mark. And the idea that all the villain cars are discontinued lemons (Pacer, Gremlin, etc.) is inspired.
Unlike Pixar’s previous, moving films like Toy Story 3, Up, and WALL-E, not one tear will be shed by anyone while watching Cars 2…except maybe tears of sadness for how badly Pixar has stumbled with this entry (which unfortunately comes out as the company celebrates its 25th anniversary).
Taking into account Lassetter’s unabashed love of cars and what makes them go vroom, Cars 2 comes off as a pet project by the boss that no one dared question in terms of its unoriginal storytelling, lack of character development, convoluted plot, and inappropriateness for children.
It’s been five years since Lassetter directed the original Cars, and a dozen years since his previous Pixar directing gig, Toy Story 2. In that time, it seems he’s either losing his touch as a director...or has lost touch with what audiences want from a Pixar film.
Cars 2 is an exhausting experience for filmgoers of any age, but especially for kids. Dash and Jack-Jack were restless and fidgety by the end of the second act; the endless onslaught of car chases, gunfire, and explosions simply drained them. Also, like the original Cars, this sequel clocks in at nearly 2 hours – way too long for the attention span of children.
Is it suitable for your kids?It’s unfathomable how Cars 2 received a G rating by the MPAA. It contains even more intense action and violence than Pixar’s PG-rated The Incredibles. Nearly every car involved in espionage fires a gun, and many of the shootouts are excessive; also, several cars are tortured and killed.
In addition to the scatological humor, there’s other questionable language including threats of violence (“Lightning McQueen must be killed,” “I’m gonna make sure you stay dead”), sexually suggestive insults (“Your mother,” “Your sister”), and in the Tokyo segment, Mater hits a gong and declares, “Bang a gong, get it on!”
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?If she’s looking for the sentiment and fun from the original Cars in this sequel, she’ll be highly disappointed.
* Director: John Lassetter
* Screenwriter: Ben Queen
* Stars: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Eddie Izzard
* MPAA Rating: G
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