Cars 2 is the first Pixar misfire. Officially breaking the animation studio’s 16 year winning streak. Pixar could do no wrong for more than a decade. So it’s truly baffling that they followed up 2 Best Picture nominated films with a Cars sequel starring Larry the Cable Guy. Pixar always strove to only make movies they were passionate about. Well it couldn’t be more obvious that Cars 2 was only made for money. I have a soft spot for Cars of course, but I agree that it was the weakest Pixar movie made at the time. Cars 2 was the first non-Toy Story sequel made after Disney purchased Pixar. Made only 5 years after the first Cars.
I can’t believe founder John Lasseter chose to direct Cars 2 instead of Toy Story 3. Getting the idea after traveling to exotic countries with Mater in mind for some reason. Cars 2 asks questions about the car world no one was asking. Like what spies would look like if they were cars. I was 16 at the time and nostalgia for the first movie was really what got me to go see it. I like action spy adventures as much as the next guy, but the sudden genre shift was really bizarre. Cars 2 is the only “rotten” Pixar film on Rotten Tomatoes and the first not to be nominated for Best Animated Feature (or any Oscar). It’s not unwatchable, but I expect so much better from the pioneers of computer animation…
Cars 2 makes its commercial appeal obvious with a Toy Story 3 short titled Hawaiian Vacation. A decent follow up where the toys try to throw a romantic Hawaii themed date for Barbie & Ken. Cars 2 was far from Pixar’s first Cars product since the release of the first film. It was already a highly successful franchise long before the sequel came out. From Cars Toons shorts Mater’s Tall Tales to all the toy cars a kid could want. It makes sense that Pixar would want a sequel, but surely they must have known how risky it was. Financially, Cars 2 was a big success. Critically, Pixar took a hit that I honestly never thought I’d see from the studio. But it was just the reality check they needed. The computer animation was just as spectacular as ever. Proving that story is everything when you get right down to it.
Cars 2 is the first Pixar sequel to have a distinct lead character change. The Toy Story trilogy may have put more or less emphasize on Woody or Buzz, but they were still ensembles with equal attention given to both. It couldn’t be more painfully clear that Mater is the star of Cars 2. Like Larry the Cable Guy, Mater is tolerable in small doses. But making a comic relief like him the lead character doesn’t always work out. The happy-go-lucky tow truck fills the movie with his special brand of hillbilly humor and stumbles his way through everything. Although Cars 2 has a fairly respectable cast, most of their performances sound a little off. As if they knew they didn’t need to try. Owen Wilson takes a back seat as Lightning McQueen. Only concerning himself with taking it slow, then entering a major race, and trying to be a good friend to Mater.
The whole message of Cars is kind of thrown out when its revealed Lightning’s won several Piston Cups that he’s dedicated to the late Doc Hudson. A character that couldn’t return without Paul Newman. Other voice actors like Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, and of course John Ratzenberger return. Mack just doesn’t have much to do outside of hang out on Route 66. Sally is just there to be Lightning’s girlfriend and support. Red the firetruck is now a silent character and Fillmore the hippie van was recast. Mater is just enjoying his time spent with his best friend until the needlessly complicated plot drives in. Cars 2 attempts to be adult with a story involving the use of fossil fuels and clean burning energy. Something I seriously doubt kids will be able to follow.
Apparently a former British oil baron named Sir Miles Axlerod traveled without a GPS and emerged with a new need to switch to electric. Creating a clean burning fuel called Allinol that he intends to promote at the World Grand Prix. Mater defends Lightning against snobby Italian formula race car Francesco Bernoulli. John Turturro is one of the few good sources of comedy with Francesco’s friendly rivalry. Lightning agrees to take part in the race with Mater, Luigi, Guido, Sarge, and Filmore joining him. The movie takes them everywhere from Japan & Paris to Italy & London. Which is mostly just an excuse to see the car world in various locations. A world that continues to present more questions than answers. Such as revealing a bathroom to be like a car wash. I’m sure just to get away with toilet humor. We also see way more living vehicles in action. I mean, are a boat and airplane’s sole purpose in life to carry cars around? There’s also a car with headlight eyes that comes out of nowhere.
In the end, the biggest answered question is what international espionage looks like from a car’s perspective. Finn McMissile is what you get when James Bond’s Aston Martin has a life of its own. With respectable Brit Michael Caine giving him personality. Finn is packed with standard spy car gadgets and guns that pop out from the side. I get that they’re cars, but it’s still violent even if they aren’t human. Cars are totalled left & right and almost constantly shot at. Yet Cars 2 still maintained a G rating. The explosive opening sequence sees Finn investigating an evil plot by mad German Professor Zündapp involving a weaponized video camera. The only conflict Lightning sees is Mater starting to embarrass him in public. While the real conflict is Mater being mistaken for an American spy in Japan. After an incident involving “Pistachio” ice cream, Mater drives into Holley Shiftwell. A sleek posh agent new to field work and voiced by Emily Mortimer.
He mistakes their rendezvous for a date and it ends up costing Lightning the race. When Lightning scolds him, Mater decides to leave. So Finn picks up Mater at an airport, narrowly avoiding enemies before boarding a plane. Pretty much everything hinges on Finn & Holley thinking Mater’s a spy. They inspect the former spies photograph of the car behind the evil plot and Mater’s knowledge of make & model is about all he’s good for. They discover only lemons are henchmen and an informant in Paris points them in the right direction. The whole Paris scene was clearly left over from Ratatouille (right down to the Gastow’s restaurant).
They then end up in Italy where the next race is taking place. Meanwhile, Lightning learns the meaning of friendship from Luigi’s family. Mater is fitted with weapons and uses a disguise that’ll allow him access to the lemon meeting place. Only then does Mater realize he’s just a joke to everyone. Probably the weakest attempt at a tear worthy moment in any Pixar movie. Mater narrowly escapes after discovering the video camera is there to burn out racers using Allinol. In order to make lemons rich with an untapped oil reserve. All the excessively complex pieces of the puzzle come to a head when everyone ends up in London. Mater reveals his obvious identity in Big Ben, where he inadvertently escapes, followed closely by Finn & Holley.
The all over the place conclusion sees an Allinol filled Lightning attempting to embrace Mater, a bomb carrying Mater driving away with rocket boosters, Finn taking down Professor Z, Holley flying with wing attachments, and the whole Radiator Springs crew fighting off the lemons. The reveal of who’s behind everything is convoluted to say the least. Then Mater is knighted by the Queen and stays home with his friends. Mater & Holley do become a couple, but it’s a little deeming to her. In the end, Lightning sets up a race with Francesco (where you can see a Pizza Planet truck) and Mater keeps his rockets in a similar scene to the first movie. Songs like “Collision of Worlds” aren’t really worth talking about. As is a sequel as cringy and awkward as this. Cars 2 is a serious misstep that I’m glad Pixar learned from.