Original Release: June 24, 2011
Directed By: John Lasseter
Screenplay By: Ben Queen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Cane, Emily Mortimer, John Turturo and Eddie Izzard
After watching so many amazing Pixar films, you can imagine my disgruntled groan, heavy sigh and overly exaggerated eye roll at seeing that we would next be watching Cars 2. If you might recall, I was a bit harsh on the original Cars, calling it flat out boring. This was the very first film in this series that I had never seen before and I’ll be very honest: I expected the worst. After all, nothing about these characters encouraged me to come back for another round of driving aimlessly through the desert. Equipped with my most skeptical pair of jean shorts, I sat down to view Cars 2. Yet, beyond all my expectations Cars 2 actually managed to not be the worst two hours I’ve spent in front of my computer screen. In fact, against all odds I actually LIKED this movie. Alright, I know that got an exalted gasp out of you. But sit back, breathe into this paper bag and let me explain.
Right off the bat, Cars 2 shows us that it has no intention of repeating the folksy feel of the first film. With a tale of spy’s and corporate espionage, Cars 2 starts off more similar to a James Bond film than it does a Pixar film. This story spans a whole world wide trek that takes the characters everywhere from Japan to Italy. This idea was inspired by John Lasseter’s world travels and his curiosity in knowing what Mater might do in the situations he saw around him. In Europe, would he drive on the wrong side of the road? In Japan, would he think that Wasabi was actually ice cream? Lasseter’s desire to know the answers to these questions led to the initial conception of this oil slick sequel.
In my write-up for Cars I mentioned that Mater, despite being voice by a comedian I didn’t really care for, managed to make the film much more enjoyable than any of the other characters. Apparently Disney and Pixar felt the same way, because Mater actually takes center stage this time around. While off parading around in a Grand Prix, Lightning yells at Mater and sends him away. Because of this, Mater ends up in the middle of a dangerous spy story, where cars are killing other cars in an effort to disavow a clean fuel so that cars will start using oil once more. Unlike the original, the story here is far more interesting and I actually found myself wanting to know what would happen next. Of course, much of this is due to the Mater being a much more interesting character this time around.
Much like Dory in Finding Dory, Mater is given the star treatment and we really get to see how genuine and caring he really is. More than this though, I like the idea that Mater is actually not completely stupid. Sure, he’s a bit naive and doesn’t understand the world outside of Radiator Springs, but when it comes to cars and their parts, his knowledge is unparalleled. Pixar has gone this route before, but I still like the “We’re all special in our own way” approach and it really shines through here. Mater is also fairly hilarious. His interactions with the spy world make for some hilarious scenarios and he always manages to be charming, without be annoying, which for a character such as this is a fine line.
Michael Cane and Emily Mortimer join the cast as Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell, the James Bone and Moneypenny of this series. I’m happy to say that these two characters are also really fun. Finn plays the role of slick spy well and Holley makes for a great female character who is both intelligent and cool. I like that she ends up having many of the ideas that save their lives and I also like that she has some of the best gadgets in the film. These two put the returning cast of Cars to shame with how enjoyable they are on screen.
And sadly, that’s my main complaint about this film. The returning cast, other than Mater, is very boring and brings extremely little to the story. Lightning in particular has a pathetic excuse for a B-story which involves him entering a race, and then feeling bad about how he treated Mater for the entirety of the film. It’s hard to care about him. He easily has the least memorable scenes in the film, and if it wasn’t so important to Disney to bring Owen Wilson back, I really think the story could have been crafted so that he didn’t need to be there. Unlike Marlin and Nemo, who provide some great moments in Finding Dory, Lightning is just sort of there. I never wanted to get back to his story though. Mater was just too entertaining.
At the end of the day, Cars 2 plays like a great Mission Impossible or James Bond film and by the end, when you find out who was actually behind it, you actually are surprised. The whole story comes together in a very meaningful way and I’m happy to report that Mater makes for a fantastic hero and really conquers his woes of self-consciousness in a superb way. He may not think as the other cars do, but that’s what makes him so special. There’s also a point made in the film about dents or as we might call them, scars. Mater says that he doesn’t want the dents on his metal fixed as they remind him of his best memories. “They’re too valuable to fix.” I really love this. The scars and pain we experience make us who we are, and though it’s not a point that is harped on, it’s lovely none the less.
Regardless of my hesitation going in to this film, I really enjoyed Cars 2. It was an excellent surprise and I was happy to see that many lessons were learned from the first film in the series. While I wouldn’t call this my favorite sequel in the Pixar canon, it still had its great moments. From legitimately fantastic action sequences, to fleshing out a character enough to make me love them even more, Cars 2 really does deliver on all fronts. Perhaps its supporting cast is a bit rough around the edges, but overall it’s a film that I actually wouldn’t mind watching a second time. If you’re like me and skipped this one the first time around, go back and give it a try. You might just find a surprise of your own.
NEXT UP: Brave