Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is back on the big screen, but this time around, his best buddy Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) takes top billing in their second outing together. Making the decision to focus on Mater was no doubt a risky decision for Pixar, but it's one that appears to have paid off in spades. Not only can the folksy tow truck with a penchant for exaggeration carry a film, but he can also do it in style.
"Cars 2" starts out in the familiar confines of Radiator Springs, but quickly turns into a globe-trotting adventure when McQueen enters a worldwide Grand Prix to stand up to an Italian Formula 1 car (John Turturro) that was taunting his choice of friends. After accepting, it's off to Japan, which is where the fun really begins.
While McQueen prepares for the race, Mater manages a bit of cultural confusion (among other things, he mistakes wasabi for ice cream and has a close encounter with a high-tech toilet) before being mistaken for secret agent by the Pixar version of MI-6. Michael Caine nails the role of Finn McMissile, a British super car sporting more gadgets than James Bond. Convinced that Mater is the real deal, McMissile drags him into the world of international espionage, which is where the two disparate plot threads gel together.
As it turns out, the Grand Prix is being sponsored by a rich industrialist who has created a "green" fuel that could eliminate the need for oil if accepted by the world. This doesn't sit well with an evil conglomerate of "lemon" cars (Gremlins, Pacers, Yugos, etc.) that are angry at the world for leaving them behind. Their goal is to sabotage the race to ensure that Big Oil never goes out of style.
It may seem like a complex plot for a children's movie, but the scriptwriters have done a masterful job of keeping the action flowing while ensuring the story never gets confusing.
Visually, "Cars 2" is an absolute treat. The globe-spanning plot offered the animators at Pixar a chance to go wild, and they did so with gusto. Japan, France, Italy and England are all represented in perfect car form. Iconic locations, such as the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham Palace, have all been reimagined to fit a world populated by cars. Overall design was maintained, but little touches, such as the addition of a sparkplug at the top of the Eiffel Tower or car statues in place of humans, are what really make the illusion work.
We saw "Cars 2" in 3-D, and the effect was well worth it. The film never uses 3-D for cheap gags, but rather uses it to give the world a full sense of depth. Watching "Cars 2" on the screen was like looking out a window and directly into this cartoon universe.
If there is one thing to be aware of before going into the film, it is the simple fact that "Cars 2" is not an ensemble piece. Outside of the headliners, everyone else is clearly secondary. As far as the story is concerned, this is a good thing, but younger fans hoping to see characters other than Mater and McQueen might be a tad disappointed. Nearly the entire crew from Radiator Springs makes an appearance at one point or another, but they are more cameos than anything else.
Speaking of cameo appearances, keep a sharp eye on the Tokyo sequence as Mo, the cleaning bot from "Wall-E," shows up in one scene.
One part James Bond and one part "Fast and the Furious," "Cars 2" is an entirely different experience than the original film, but in this case, it was a change for the better. Rarely does a sequel improve on its progenitor, but Pixar seems to have managed to pull it off with "Cars 2." Here's hoping that the "Cars 2" games are just as good as the film.
"Cars 2" is rated G and has a running time of 2 hours.
Editor's Note: Cars 2: The Video Game is currently available for the Nintendo DS, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC and Macintosh computers. Be sure to check out our full movie review to see how it stacks up to the film.
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