At the beginning of Cars 2, the audience is treated to a spy and espionage opening where Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) comes onto a cargo ship in search of one of his operatives, Leland Turbo (Jason Isaac), who has gone AWOL. While there, he finds a glimpse into the devious plan of Professor Zundzapp (Thomas Kretschmann) before going away into a thrilling chase that is accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s exciting score.
Unfortunately, the remaining 90 minutes of the film involves a Larry the Cable Guy vehicle that feels as if it is Pixar as written by the writers of a Shrek or Madagascar film. For a Pixar film, Cars 2 is crass and crude, lacking the sophistication of its predecessors. It is filled with bodily function humor that is mostly provided by Larry the Cable Guy and weird double entendres that are also mostly provided by Larry the Cable Guy, although anything about removing your fenders is now my new favorite euphemism.
This would be completely fine if Cars 2 wasn’t also boring. One of the benefits of the first Cars film is that it wasn’t built around chase and racing scenes, like Cars 2 seems to be. With the previous film, the racing scenes were basically at the beginning and the end, save for one during Lightning’s time in Radiator Springs. Here, we have constant racing scenes that are followed by chases, then some down time, then some more action.
The whole premise of the film is that Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) decides to compete in the first ever World Grand Prix, which is a huge publicity stunt for a new renewable fuel, Allinol. He decides to take his friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), with him even though this seems like a terrible idea since Mater is absurdly annoying. Sure enough, Mater embarrasses McQueen in Tokyo and is sent off to the bathroom, only to end up being caught up in espionage after meeting Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Hijinks ensue.
A huge problem with this film is that it tries to be too much. It wants to be an espionage thriller for the whole family, but it also wants to be a feel-good buddy film and a film about cars and racing. Ultimately, the spy plot only works out with the plot about the World Grand Prix, so there is only one solution for how to fix the film: Get rid of Mater.
The film seems to be more of a way of putting the maddening tow-truck in the spotlight while selling millions of dollars in merchandise. Mater was annoying in the first film, but he wasn’t as prominent in the film as Doc Hudson or Sally Carrera. Here, he seems to overshadow McQueen, which shouldn’t happen. Mater is possibly the most annoying sidekick ever created in a Disney film not because of his folksy ways, but because of how those folksy ways are portrayed by Larry the Cable Guy. He is the stupid redneck impressed by everything he sees. It’s a schtick that becomes tiresome quickly and his accent that sounds like a hyperactive Cletus Spuckler from The Simpsons. Throughout the film, you might find yourself hoping someone T-bones Mater simply because it would mean less screen-time for the character.
But the film does have some redeeming factors since it is made by Pixar. It’s very pretty to look at, especially during the scenes where the characters are in Tokyo and Giacchino’s score is excellent, evoking the right classic spy sound. Unfortunately, that seems to be it.
It would be nice if every Pixar film was wonderful, but this has proven to not be the case with Cars 2. The convoluted film shows that Pixar’s failure is caused by a film that is like so much out there. It is possible to create a great film with merchandising potential, as was seen with Toy Story 3, but that was not heeded with this film. At the very least, they probably sold plenty of merchandise tied into the film.