Sixteen years, 12 films, and 40 Oscar nominations later, Pixar has finally delivered their first true fluff piece. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s still miles ahead of what’s considered “family” entertainment these days and lives up to the studios typical standards. John Lasseter may be back in the driver’s seat since he brought us the original lackadaisical Cars back in 2006, but thankfully he found a reason to bring his billion dollars worth of merchandising back to the big screen with Cars 2.
With a story credit of three (Lasseter himself, co-director Brad Lewis, and Dan Fogelman) and surprisingly only one screenwriter in Ben Queen (who knows a thing or two about car racing after working on TV’s Drive) the quartet has managed to breathe a whole new life into the franchise that seemed destined to direct-to-video offerings. Quite a feat considering the series has already spawned a slew of Cars Toons and Planes on the horizon. By plopping Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his BFF Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) into the middle of the spy genre, it looks like the series is just getting warmed up.
Cars 2 opens up as any episode of Alias or the latest Bond entry would with Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) looking for his lost agent who was last seen amongst the fiery oil rigs somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Finn discovers that his agent has been compounded and soon enough his own situation has been compromised and a grand chase unfolds. But not before McMissile leads Professor Z (voiced by Thomas Kretschman) and his cronies believe him to be killed. Now we find Mater up his old shenanigans, missing McQueen who quickly arrives back in Radiator Springs after winning his fourth Hudson Hornet Piston Cup. Here it’s business as usual where it seems like we’re going to be getting a whole lot of more of the same.
But then we begin to get introduced to the new lot of characters including Sir Miles Axelrod (voiced by Eddie Izzard), who’s discovered the ultimate fuel alternative in Allinol, and Franceso Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro), an Italian race car who’s sort of like a G-rated Jean Girard from Talladega Nights. After Mater makes a phone call to a TV show, McQueen is goaded into accepting his ignored invitation to Axelrod’s World Grand Prix. Now McQueen and Mater are off to Towkyo where evil doings are afoot and McMissile mistakes Mater for an American spy and along with trusty tech Holley Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer), Mater is sucked into the world of espionage to save the race from the dastardly plots of the “lemons,” who are out to prove Allinol makes quite a handy weapon when mixed with an electronic pulse in the form of a TV camera.
By taking the Cars characters and transplanting them into a whole new world (well, at least as far as the spy genre is concerned), Pixar has found a reason for this sequel to exist outside of selling billions more in merchandising. It’s a little more than coincidental however, that it’s being released with the opening of Cars Land as part of Disney’s California Adventures next summer. It’s a good thing the film is as good as it is to not fall under the spell of some other truly lackluster cash-grab sequels that have been unleashed upon us this summer (Disney’s own Pirates 4 and The Hangover Part II).
All the standard Pixar delights are in place however, as we get a teaser for their next film, Brave; a new Toy Story Toons short, the far too hilarious Hawaiian Vacation, in which the gang give Ken and Barbie their dream vacation after they get left behind while Bonnie takes off for winter break. It was sad to see the gang back together again for these blissful five minutes but we all know that Toy Story 3 is the best place to leave the film series. It’s more than okay to revisit them in this form if they’re going to be this hilarious.
The score by Michael Giacchino (a welcome Pixar regular now) brings to mind the best scores of spy movies past and Lasseter keeps the jokes flying no matter how high or low brow. While we do get more bathroom humor than most, Pixar somehow always manages to make them funny. And finally, the best joke in the entire movie is a nod to the reviews of the first one. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Whenever I need to find something to help me fall asleep, I put in Cars.” It’s nice to see Pixar able to acknowledge their shortcomings while upping themselves.
If you’re skeptical about the 3-D, skip it. I kept glancing over my glasses and the world of Cars was as bright as crisp as ever as compared to viewed through the insipid glasses where it looks like the whole film seems to be taking place at dusk. At first I was worried that Cars 2 would wind up being just another fluff piece to tide us by until their next truly original venture, but job well done on proving me wrong. While it’s far from the animated game changer I think both Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rango are, here’s hoping Monsters University can continue Pixar’s streak of showing just how well sequels can be done.
Photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures