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Theatrical Review: Cars 2

Race car Lightning McQueen has returned to Radiator Springs following a successful race tour.  Once there, he’s reunited with his best buddy, the reliable and folksy tow truck, Tow Mater.  Lightning’s ready for some rest and relaxation, but thanks to Mater, that’s a little short-lived.  Mater sees a TV program announcing a big race sponsored by Sir Miles Axelrod promoting his new alternative fuel, Allinol.  On this same program, champion Italian race car Francesco Bernouli starts to make some disparaging remarks about Lightning McQueen.  Mater, of course being Lightning’s loyal friend calls in to the program and starts to defend his pal, which of course leads to McQueen getting involved with the race.

For the first time, Lightning decides to take his buddy Mater with him on a race tour.  Soon, Mater finds himself getting involved with two secret agents, Finn McMissle and Holley Shiftwell as they uncover a plot to discredit Axelrod and Allinol.

That’s the basic premise behind Cars 2 the latest movie from Pixar Studios.  I enjoyed the previous Cars film quite a bit, though not to the same lengths as such films as the Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, or Wall•E. The first Cars, along with Monsters, Inc., are to me, the weakest of Pixar’s impressive filmography.  Inevitably, whenever I make this remark, someone is always quick to defend these movies and that’s fine, but I’m not saying they’re bad movies at all.  In fact, I enjoy them quite a bit, they just don’t have the same resonance with me as other Pixar movies.  And weaker Pixar movies are still tons better than most other computer animated efforts out there.  So please, when I say that, I’m not insulting those movies by any means.

Cars 2 actually changes things up quite a bit and really this time around, this is Mater’s movie, with Lightning McQueen more as a supporting player, with even the new secret agent cars, Finn McMissle and Holley Shiftwell getting (at least in my eyes) more screen time than Lightning.  Larry the Cable Guy provides the voice for Mater, and while I’m not exactly a Larry The Cable Guy live-action fan, he does a pretty good job with Mater and makes him a character that you do care about, though it’s one that I don’t think is as universal as say Woody from the Toy Story films.  Most of Pixar’s movies have a great universal appeal to both adults and children, but in the case of the Cars movies and Monsters, Inc., I think they’re just a touch more geared towards children, and that’s fine, I think kids will absolutely love this.  I think adults will too, but again, not to the same extent as other Pixar efforts.

I like Cars 2 more than it’s original, and actually like the idea of changing things up a bit, with a different character getting the spotlight and adding all of these James Bond-like secret agent elements.  But what amazes me more is how Pixar always raises the bar technologically with each of it’s films.  Some of the visuals here are just astounding.

The voice casting is certainly well done.  Owen Wilson returns as Lightning McQueen, as do most of the previous Cars cast.  New to the cast this time though are Emily Mortimer as Holley Shiftwell and Eddie Izzard as Sir Miles Axelrod.  The real standouts for me in the voice work though are Michael Caine as Finn McMissle and John Turturro as Francesco Bernouli.  Turturro in particular sounds like he’s having a great time here.

Cars 2 is, pardon the expression, a fun ride and for children, I expect it’ll be a really fun ride.  A word of warning though to parents taking their kids to see this, there is a good deal of, for want of a better word, violence, in the movie.  Lots of scenes with guns, explosions and even a couple of car “deaths.”  Now, it does all move pretty quickly, so none of it ever seems like it’s dwelled upon for too long, but still these scenes are there and you might want to keep that in mind depending on how you think your child will handle it.

As is common practice with a Pixar movie, we also get a short in front of this under the banner title of Toy Story Toons. Yes, the Toy Story characters are back for a short titled “Hawaiian Vacation” and it’s just terrific.  The real surprise for me out of the short is that it takes place after Toy Story 3, so now Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang are part of Bonnie’s toy collection.  This short is just a lot of fun, and the entire voice cast, Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, everyone is back for this, including Michael Keaton as the Ken doll, who’s also the standout for me in that short.

I chose to see Cars 2 in 3D, and much like the the 3D use in other Pixar films, it’s used more for a sense of immersion rather than going for in-your-face effects.  I think it’s pretty nicely done, but not really essential to your enjoyment of the film.  It’s more of an enhancement than anything else, still some of the scenes really do shine with that enhancement.