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Film review: 'Cars 2' is a total gas

June 28, 2011|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, foreground left, Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, center, and Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine, right, are shown in a scene from "Cars 2."
AP Photo

Pixar Animatio

n is synonymous with excellence. I myself regard the "Toy Story" series, "Ratatouille," and "Up" as some of the greatest films of all time.

I have love for their other films as well, and most people agree with me when I say that Pixar has never made a bad film. Those who do disagree with me tend to point to 2006's "Cars" as the lone black mark on an otherwise spotless record.

While I don't rank it among my favorites, I feel "Cars" is worthy of the Pixar branding. "Cars 2" deserves about the same acclaim. Relative to Pixar's other films, it is less than amazing. Relative to everything else playing this weekend, it's pretty amazing.  

The thing that impresses me most about the "Cars" movies is the world that the cars live in. It is not a human world, but the world is human-like. The only living things in this world are cars, yet their environment is basically the same as ours.  

It is no doubt a challenge for the filmmakers to direct and write for characters with no arms (they have hooks and pulleys), no heads (they have eyes on their windshields and mouths on their fenders), and no feet (wheels). The Pixar team rises to this challenge with their trademark attention to detail, and the characters' movements look perfectly natural.

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Speaking of attention to detail, "Cars 2"s humor is as clever as can be. As with all the best animated comedies, the film is filled with many of those wonderful little moments that require strict attention but add so much to your enjoyment of the film.  Be sure to pay attention when the characters arrive in Tokyo.  

The film is a sequel, but the tone has changed drastically. The original took things surprisingly slow, locating itself mainly in the small dusty town of Radiator Springs. This one takes place all over the world and there's much more action. Even the hierarchy of characters has changed.

The main character from the original, racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is not featured as much this time around. His best friend, a tow truck named Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is now front and center. For the story, Mater tags along with Lightning as he travels to a three-country race to promote an environmentally safe fuel. A team of British secret agents (Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) have uncovered an evil plot to sabotage the race. While Lightning is stuck competing against an arrogant Italian car (John Turturro), Mater finds himself an unwitting participant in the spy game. Of course with Mater, everything he does is unwitting.  

The film does lack one feature that keeps it from achieving the status of greatness enjoyed by its Pixar brethren and that is an emotional core. The cream of the Pixar crop really know how to do a number on your heartstrings.

Remember how sad it was to think that WALL-E might have lost his happiest memories or when Andy gave away an important piece of his childhood in "Toy Story 3"? Not to mention the tearjerking opening montage in "Up"?  

"Cars 2" doesn't have that kind of sensitivity. There are a few bummer moments when Lightning and Mater's friendship is tested and Mater struggles with being labeled an idiot, but I never felt the need to take them seriously. The film is too upbeat to be considered an emotional journey.

"Cars 2" won't have you reaching for a tissue, but it's a fine family film otherwise. Early reviews have suggested that it might not be seen that way. If you see it for yourself I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The film is a beam of sunshine in a summer clouded by increasingly woeful action movies. It might not be an instant classic like some other Pixar films, but it is by no means an embarrassment. Pixar can be proud of "Cars 2."  


Four Stars out of Five



"Cars 2" is rated G.  Its running time is 112 minutes.  

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