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Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie Review: CARS 2


Cars 2 is a 2011 animated film directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis that serves as a direct sequel to the 2006 film, Cars. The film picks up the storyline seemingly a little while after the events of the first film, with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) now the winner of four Piston Cup Championships. When Sir Miles Axlerod (voiced by Eddie Izzard), the maker of a new alternative fuel, announces the formation of a World Grand Prix, McQueen's best friend Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) inadvertently gets McQueen to agree to join the race, the two embark on a trip around the world as they try to win the title. However, while they're in Japan for the first leg of the race, Mater finds a way to get caught up in a conspiracy looking to take down Axlerod and his line of alternative fuel. Mater teams with a couple of British spies, Fin McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer), both of whom mistake him for a trained American spy. As they trio tries to solve the mystery of who wants to take down Axlerod's empire, it becomes eerily apparent that the evildoers' plot intertwines with the World Grand Prix itself.

I do have to say that I was having some reservations going into this film. Of the eleven Pixar feature films released prior to Cars 2, all have managed to score at least a 74% approval rating on the online critical aggregate (Note: The 2006 film Cars scored the 74% approval rating - the other ten films have all achieved higher than a 91% approval rating.). Because the first Cars film was the least well-received, I probably shouldn't have expected critics to be terribly kind to this new installment. The fact that it plummeted to a 33% approval rating definite gave me a moment's pause simply because of the monumental drop. It marks the first time that any Pixar film hasn't been positively received by critical consensus. So you can imagine my hesitation, especially considering that my tastes often tend to stay in line with what the "professional" critics think. I did enjoy the first Cars film - I gave it a 'B+' grade, and it nabbed three nominations in my "Best of 2006" awards, so I did have a little bit of hope for this one.

And I can honestly say that I enjoyed this second installment almost as much. While the coming-of-age tale presented in the 2006 film would have been difficult to pass, I personally thought that Cars 2 came rather close to meeting those expectations. I think one of the knocks against the Cars story has always been that it lacked a little bit of the magic that other Pixar films have brought to the screen. However, when you have to compete with toys coming to life and anthropomorphic animals, it's tough to find a niche. At the end of the day, the Cars franchise will still be remembered as head-and-shoulders above the majority of animated films that hit theaters. Unfortunately, we almost automatically start to compare any Pixar film to the other films they've produced, and that's where the negativity is going to stem for Cars 2.

We actually get a decent, multi-faceted storyline this time around. On the one hand, we have the story of the World Grand Prix, with Lightning McQueen doing his best to beat out his newest rival in Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro) for the world's top spot. However, the race - as well as McQueen himself - truly takes a back seat to the drama unfolding behind the scenes, so to speak. This film is definitely more Mater-centric than anything else, taking us on his adventure rather than sticking with the humdrum existence of an established race-car because we already got to see the ins and outs of that in the first film. Add to the fact that Mater's storyline has a very James Bond feel to it, and you've got the makings of an action-packed flick that's sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Now, because the film is more centered around Mater's story, you really do have to kind of like Larry the Cable Guy's brand of humor. I know he might be a little polarizing for some, but in the constructs of this movie and his character, I think it works exceptionally well. As the funniest character in the film, he needs to be consistent, and that's exactly what Larry conveys throughout the movie. The film actually benefits from the bringing in of some new voice talent, especially in the inclusion of Caine and Mortimer, who complement one another quite well throughout the film. Also be on the listen for the likes of Brent Musburger, Thomas Kretschmann, Jason Isaacs and Bruce Campbell in smaller roles.

Oh, and the visuals are simply astounding. I know that Pixar has truly outdone themselves in the past, but this film is equally brilliant. I could go on and on about the action sequences, but I personally thought the races were simply astounding. At times, I felt like I was watching real-life races because the cars' movements were so realistic. I had to give Pixar massive amounts of kudos for always upping the ante a little bit when it comes to their animation. They also found a way to bring out the life of each of the film's main settings (Japan, Italy and England). We definitely get a strong sense that we're actually there, whether it be the off-beat Japanese humor we Americans have taken a liking to or the grand family-oriented parties in Italy. Good job, Pixar, on bringing all that to life in Cars 2.

Overall, I thought that Cars 2 was a rather good continuation of the story set forth in the first film. I think if you're going to see it, you should try to view it for what it is, rather than compare it to the classic films of Pixar past. If you look at it through those tinted glasses, then you're going to have a tough time enjoying this particular movie. It's definitely a good one, and it definitely deserves your attention.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B
1.5 Thumbs Up

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