Here’s something you may not know: the first Cars movie has, according to Pixar boss and director John Lasseter, made $10 billion in merchandise alone.With financial figures like that, a sequel to the 2006 story about a race car who finds himself stranded in a small desert town called Radiator Springs and whilst there finds his true friends was sure to be green lit. Critically, the first movie was met with generally positive reviews but the general consensus was that it lacked the “edge” that previous Pixar releases had, namely The Incredibles, which (until Cars) was the company’s latest release. So does the follow up learn from the mistakes and solidify Pixar as the leaders in animation?
Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) returns to Radiator Springs after winning the 4th Piston Cup to his best friend Mater (Larry The Cable Guy in possibly the best role he’s ever had) and girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt). But his break is cut short when he overhears another race car by the name of Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro, who’s better known for his role as paranoid agent Simmons in the Transformers series) boasting about how much better he is than McQueen on a TV interview promoting a new event, the World Grand Prix. Organised by Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard), an all electric car and developer of an alternative fuel cleverly called Allinol, the race is to be run on said fuel and across three countries: Japan, Italy and the UK. But when Team McQueen arrive in Japan, there’s much more going on than just the Grand Prix: Mater inadvertently gets caught up in his own adventure of espionage involving two British agents, Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) that could jeopardise Lightning’s chances of winning the race, but more importantly their friendship.
For an age rating of U (Universal, suitable for all) rated film, that plot could appear to be a little too confusing for younger audiences. For the most part though, it’s easy to follow but there are occasions where it gets lost in itself, not really knowing what narrative to focus on. There’s no questions when it comes to who the main character of this one is though: McQueen takes a back seat to let Mater lead the pack. If anything, Lightning comes across as the most unlikeable character of the film, due to his actions towards Mater.
As for the voice artists, Wilson is as flat as the battery on a car that’s had the headlights left on overnight, whereas Larry really takes on the role of goofy Mater and makes it his own. He’s by far the stand out voice, with the supporting cast (even the legendary Michael Caine) paling in comparison. A close second is John Turruto and his Italian accent, but with a lifeless Owen to work with, the potential of brilliant chemistry is lost. Emily Mortimer, ‘pairing’ with Caine for the first time since 2009’s British crime drama Harry Brown, doesn’t put any real effort in, and it shows. Almost all of her lines sound like they were recorded at a table read, coming across horribly robotic at times. The villain character has little to no menace due to only being on screen for 5 minutes maximum, and that links back to the unfocused nature of the script.
Being a Pixar release, there was never any doubt when it came to the quality of visuals. From a vibrant and bustling Japan to the dry, cracked land of Radiator Springs, it’s clear that the famed attention to detail has been applied here. Each scene is a masterpiece, as viewers have come to expect from a company which consistently outdoes its high standards. The screening was in 2D, so unfortunately views on the 3D aspect and whether it’s worth it won’t be found here. But I’ll go out on a limb and predict that… No. It’s not.Regardless of dimension, the set pieces look stunning, even if the races don’t last all that long.
Clocking in at a rather unnecessary 121 minutes, Cars 2 is not exactly a quick drive into town. Furthermore, it’s so intent on trying to fit all the narrative arcs in, that genuine moments that raise a smile are far between. Mater provides the obvious toilet (in one scene, literally) humour, but once again it’s not up to the level that Pixar have delivered on countless times before; disappointingly, it’s comedy at its simplest.
If one didn’t know better, it would seem that this picture was made purely to milk the proverbial cash cow. There are infinitely more cars here, which means more merchandise opportunities and ultimately that’s more money for Pixar. I wasn’t fully convinced by number one, but this was actually an overall entertaining piece of film that, if you can see past the flaws and often unenthusiastic voice acting, coasts along at a leisurely pace, never really pressing on the gas pedal but remaining entertaining until the credits.