We’ve all seen car chases in spy movies, but never when the cars were actually the spies.
When race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) finally rolls back into town after his latest season burning up the track, his best friend and tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) has all kinds of fun lined up. Faster than you can say “Talladega Nights,” an Italian formula race car named Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) starts talking smack, prompting McQueen to accept a challenge in a three-race world grand prix and to take Mater along for the ride. What no one knows is that sinister forces working behind the scenes are being pursued by British spy car Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and that McQueen and his fellow races have been targeted.
Taking a page from Ian Fleming spy book, Cars 2 expands globally to show life (and its seedy undercarriage) beyond Radiator Springs. While the first film was firmly centered on “city” car McQueen trying to escape “country” life, the sequel not only goes global but changes the perspective to focus on lovable, bumbling Mater. In true Pixar style, the actions sequences astound but the meat of the plot is a positive message on being yourself and how real friends accept you for who you are. After the serviceable first film that initially felt like Pixar was simply putting one more film in the can to end their Disney contract, this sequel puts the accelerator to the floor and never looks in the rear-view mirror.
The pure car-loving imagination that went into the production design of the film is inspiring. Grill work from classic cars have been worked into the landscape of every world location you can imagine. It also begs the question: who built all of this? If there are no humans, why do these creatures look like cars if there are no passengers? It’s as if a parallel world exists purely on the notion that cars for humans exist in a world where there are none. Kind of creepy if think about it too hard; what’s next, a story where cars on earth escape from their “slave master” owners to Radiator Springs? Everywhere you look throughout the production is another clever way to compare their world to ours, whether it’s rolling fuzzy dice at the crap tables or the fact that Pacers and Gremlin cars are lemons in their world, too.
The real star of this installment is Larry the Cable Guy as the voice of Mater. Having parlayed a single character from his comedy routine into a career, it hasn’t hurt Larry a bit that Pixar creators have turned the character into one of their own (and the paycheck probably isn’t bad, either). Folks who don’t have the Disney cable or satellite channels may be blissfully unaware of just how many Cars shorts have been made of Mater embellishing a crazy story and dragging McQueen into it at some point just before something terrible happens (off camera, of course). To those who have, it’s clear who the real star of the series is, and kudos for taking a moment in the movie to honor the voice of the Hudson Hornet, the late Paul Newman. It’s these kinds of touches that still keep Pixar an arm’s reach ahead from other animation studios, but the pack is catching up fast.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)