'Cars 2' is Pixar's first lemon
To use a thematic metaphor, Pixar Animation is the Mercedes-Benz of animation - top of the line, trendsetting and a joy to drive.
"Cars 2" is like that Mercedes minivan - still comfortable, but without that edge and a far cry from previous, superior models.
In other words, Pixar's exemplary record is its latest film's undoing. "Cars 2" is an average animated feature, which, coming from the masters that brought us "Up" and "Toy Story," is disappointing by default.
The animation is brilliant, peppered with those hilarious little details that make Pixar's films so rich in context, but the story lacks the heart and depth of its predecessors.
Those are movies audiences of all ages can inherently enjoy, while "Cars 2" targets just two demographics: Children and Larry the Cable Guy fans.
At its heart, "Cars 2" is an animated Larry the Cable Guy movie about talking cars. With Michael Caine.
Even Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, "Midnight in Paris"), the first film's hero, gets second billing to Larry the Cable Guy's Mater, whose likeness must've sold more lunchboxes than David Hasselhoff in his prime.
Larry ("Witless Protection") returns to voice the amiable, redneck tow truck, Tow Mater, living the dream in the small western town of Radiator Springs, sans best friend and racing champion McQueen.
McQueen returns just in time for Mater to accidently earn him a spot in the International Grand Prix, arranged to showcase the efficiency of a green fuel called Allinol, developed by British entrepreneur Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard, "Across the Universe").
Scheduled to race in Japan, Italy and England, McQueen is guilt-tripped into letting Mater join his race team, having otherwise been embarrassed by his Larry the Cable Guy-ness.
But something's amiss. British super spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine, "Harry Brown"), modeled after James Bond's Aston Martin in "Goldfinger," and assistant Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer, "Shutter Island") mistake Mater for an American spy under deep cover.
It doesn't take long until Mater is obliviously entangled in a web of espionage and intrigue, a la Bill Murray in "The Man Who Knew Too Little," as he unwittingly unfolds a dastardly plot to discredit alternative fuels and destroy Grand Prix racers in the process.
Meanwhile, with Mater absent from the racing team, McQueen regrets having resented his friend, realizing that cars should accept others for who they are.
That's the message in "Cars 2," a positive message, for sure, but told in such a simplistic way that it seems obligatory and superficial.
It's also a considerable change in pace from the first film, which was essentially a love letter to the golden age of automobiles. "Cars 2" plays more like a brilliantly animated episode of "James Bond Jr.," paying general homage to the spy films of yesteryear but not much else. Put simply, it's just not very original.
The only depth in this sequel is the scenery - vibrant, colorful and teeming with life, even though its characters are mechanical. Directors John Lasseter ("Toy Story") and Brad Lewis and their team of expert animators spare no expense when it comes to detail, and the film's funniest moments come from context and its more subtle sight gags.
"Cars 2" is good for a few laughs, but even better for children who simply prefer dazzling visuals. Conversely, it's brought Pixar's seemingly untouchable track record
to an awkward halt.
But it gets off to a good start, at least, preceded by a delightful "Toy Story" short,
"Hawaiian Vacation," in which the gang - Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, etc. - give Ken and Barbie a vacation they'll never forget.
"Cars 2," rated G, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 23 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.