Racing Movie Month: "Cars 2" Review

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In a sequel to the 2006 movie, race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and tow truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) head to Japan and Europe to compete in the World Grand Prix. However they get tripped up when Mater becomes sidetracked with international espionage.

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Rating: G
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: June 24, 2011
Directed by: John Lasseter & Brad Lewis
Genre: Animation / Family / Comedy / Action-Adventure

The folks at Pixar consistently deliver some of the best-made family-friendly movies around, and "Cars 2" continues their tradition of great storytelling, warm humor and truly wonderful animation. It is more than a worthy sequel to its predecessor "Cars," which at times seemed as if it were designed more to sell toys than to tell a great story. With a sharp and unexpected "James Bond" tone, "Cars 2" is action-filled and often hilariously funny.

"Cars 2" takes the audience along for another ride with Lightning McQueen, the star of "Cars" (voiced by Owen Wilson). This time, Lightning is heading around the world for the World Grand Prix, which will take him to Italy, England and Japan. Also along for the ride is Tow Mater, the battered tow truck who befriended Lightning in the original movie (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy).

While Lightning is busy trying to prove he's the fastest car in the world, however, Tow Mater manages to blunder the pair of them into a James Bond-like adventure. In this part of the plot, suave sports car Finn McMissile (dashingly voiced by Michael Caine) endeavors to uncover a plot to sabotage the three World Grand Prix races. However, once McMissile mistakes Mater for an American CIA agent, the fun is on.

Tow Mater doesn't realize that yet another undercover agent, this one working for the bad guys, has placed a tracking device on him. McMissile and allies therefore think Mater is the actual spy they're looking for. When Mater's involvement with all the spy shenanigans helps Lightning lose a race, Lightning announces he no longer needs his best friend. At this point, he abandons Mater, who joins up with McMissile.

However, things go wrong, and Mater and McMissile end up captured by the bad guys, a sinister cartel who want to keep cars using polluting fuel rather than newer sustainable and renewable fuel. Even as McQueen is racing in the final leg of the World Grand Prix, Mater has to expose and stop the villain, and ends up saving the day. The Queen of England knights Mater, and McMissile asks him to stay with him as a secret agent. Mater, however, knows exactly who he is and where he belongs, and returns to Radiator Springs with Lightning McQueen, their friendship restored.

Larry the Cable Guy brings a relaxed friendliness to the character of Tow Mater once again, and serves as the emotional linchpin of the movie.  Michael Caine proves what a wonderful James Bond he might have been in his younger days, his Scottish brogue practically purring with every line.  Owen Wilson reprises his role as Lightning McQueen with aplomb, though he's on screen so much less than in the original movie that it makes the viewer wish for more.

The action set pieces in "Cars 2" are all a feast for the eyes, with one great chase or race after another keeping the adrenalin pumped up.  The various action scenes are incredibly creative and so fast that you might wonder how you can be happy with a live-action chase scene ever again.  The specific references to James Bond movies are fun for adults to pick up on, so much so that you might find yourself wanting to watch the "Cars" movie starring secret agent Finn McMissile as the lead character.

The visuals are once again up to Pixar's usual excellent standards, though it's true that cars lend themselves far less to animation than do animals or even other inanimate objects; after all, only the eyes and maybe the tires are available for expression. The aesthetics of the worlds these expressively limited cars travel into, however, more than make up for this weakness. The wildness and vibrant colors of the Japan sequence in particular shines. In addition, the 3D is well done throughout and adds a great deal of vibrancy and power to the racing sequences.

The writing is fun and witty throughout; in many ways, "Cars 2" is actually better written than the first "Cars" movie, and is certainly funnier. Lots of sight gags, car-related jokes and puns pop up throughout the movie, and there's plenty to laugh about. While some of the kids who watch "Cars 2" may not be able to track the complicated espionage plot, it's a gift to the parents paying for the tickets or buying the DVD or Blu-Ray, giving them a story that's actually worth watching.

In the end, the message of "Cars 2" is a good one for viewers of all ages: all about the importance of friendship and of discovering who you really are.

While "Cars 2" isn't the strongest of Pixar's enviable slate of movies, it is a fun and exciting romp that takes characters the audience already loves into a new and sometimes thrilling environment. With the terrific addition of Michael Caine's Finn McMissile, "Cars 2" is likely to become, for many viewers, a sequel that is more loved than the original film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5