Let’s just get this out of the way — Cars 2 is obviously inferior to the rest of the Pixar stable; but at the same time, it never pretends to be up to snuff, and while there’s nothing redeemable about that fact, there’s also not a damn thing wrong with it either. I was among the many who never even remotely understood the reason for this sequel’s existence, and I am pleased to confirm that (as expected) Cars 2 isn’t a very good movie. However, this second installment has arrived to multiplexes, and if you’re the parent of a child of any age, there’s nothing you can possibly do to ignore it.
Admittedly, I can appreciate that the rare Pixar movie presents itself without emotionally cloying baggage and that doesn’t pull one’s heart out of one’s chest and stomp all over it. Essentially, Cars 2 really is much like Transformers for kids in that it’s mindless entertainment that no one would ever claim possesses culturally redeeming value, but it’s an easily digestible, moderately fun ride to take. It’s impossible to evaluate this film on the same standards as Up or the Toy Story franchise. Cars and its shiny new progeny are another matter altogether, so let’s just leave it at that.
Accepting the ridiculousness of anthropomorphic automobiles, ships, and airplanes is part of the game here. Back in the first movie, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) was a dick that learned his lesson; that is, he realized what was truly important in life, valued his true friends, and helped put Radiator Springs back on the map. With the sequel, we meet back up with Lightning McQueen and his best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) en route to the World Grand Prix — an event helmed by Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) in an effort to convince the racing world to adopt renewable fuel sources — which encompasses three races set within Tokyo, the Italian Riviera, and London. In the process, the visuals are absolutely stunning (in 2D, that is) and carry the movie swiftly towards its inevitable conclusion.
The racing and friendship themes from the first movie still course through the sequel, but that’s background noise for an unabashed, unapologetic James Bond story involving a British spy named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his assistant, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) that at least attempts to take things in a new direction from the nostalgic Americana setting of the first movie. If the spy thing sounds incredibly silly, well, that’s because it is silly, but I can appreciate the story’s straightforward manner and the lack of nudge-winks. Ultimately, it’s a lack of irony that makes Cars 2 tolerable if it must be tolerated at all.
Even with a substandard story compared to what we’ve come to expect from Pixar, the visuals and detail that Pixar are famous for are still second to none. As annoying as Larry the Cable Guy is as a live-action entity, his Mater is adorable and receives the most loving attention from the filmmakers. Overall, the voice work is serviceable. except for the exceptional John Turturro, who voices the Italian race car, Francesco Bernoulli, with such personality that he’s impossible not to love. The international settings are fairly breathtaking and present a welcome diversion to the fact that this movie might just be actively rotting your brain away; but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter if this film is good or worth the money spent upon tickets. In short, if you liked the first Cars movie, you’ll like this one better. If you hated the first one, well, don’t even bother.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.