It is time to return to the world created in 2006’s “Cars,” where there are no humans but there are unique and distinctive automobiles. Co-directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis take us back to the town of Radiator Springs and beyond, exploring the world and traveling to exciting and exotic locations fill with danger, intrigue, laughs and, of course, racing.
As we start “Cars 2,” the whole gang is back and it’s been a few years since we last saw our gas-guzzling friends. Radiator Springs is the headquarters of racing star — and now triple winner of the Piston Cup — Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). Even though he is rarely there, due to his busy schedule, his friends are glad to see him when he gets to come home.
When a oil tycoon named Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) goes green and decides to convert to electric, he sponsors the biggest race in history called “The World Grand Prix” to showcase his new clean-burning organic oil. When trash-talking Italian race car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) mocks McQueen, his well meaning best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) steps in and challenges him to a race. Soon the whole McQueen team is off to Japan for the first race in the largest international racing competition yet.
Mater takes the term “in the wrong place at the wrong time” to an entirely new level when a trip to the bathroom turns into a case of mistaken identity and he is thought to be a contact for a pair of British spies, secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who are hot on the trail of the evil monocle-wearing Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann) and his legion of henchman that are involved in a dastardly plot.
When a case of Mater being himself embarrasses McQueen and makes him lose a race, an argument between friends makes Mater doubt himself. As he is heading home, he is picked-up by Finn and Holly and brought along on their grand adventure to uncover the huge conspiracy and plot being hatched by Professor Z and a group of other cars. Can Lightning McQueen win the race without the help of his best friend, and, more importantly, can Mater discover his true worth and help these classy spies uncover a plot that could prove disastrous to him and his friends?
Not very often do you get a sequel to a very popular film that includes most of the talent from the original but goes so far away from the lessons learned in the first film. This is not a bad thing, just somewhat unseen. Where “Cars” taught life lessons about slowing down and enjoying life and the beauty of small town Middle America, “Cars 2” focuses on an international scale that couldn’t be more opposite. Also, while “Lightning McQueen” was the primary focus, this time around the story told is really about Mater. Yes McQueen, Sally (Bonnie Hunt), Flo (Jenifer Lewis), Ramone (Cheech Marin), Sarge (Paul Dooley), Luigi and Guidi are all present throughout, but the story revolves around Mater realizing how he is perceived by those outside of Radiator Springs and coming to accept himself for who he is.
“Cars 2” is a visual treat. The Pixar animators have created a bright, vibrant and colorful new world for fans to explore. The journey for the World Grand Prix takes us through the neon glowing streets of Tokyo, to the wonderful vintage streets of Paris, then onto the coastal and exotic streets of the Italian Riviera and finally finishing off in London. The pure scope of this film is so grand it is hard to explain, but the attention to detailing and little hidden gems you see while watching it keep you just as enraptured with everything on screen as ever before. The addition of 3D works in unison with the amazing set designs to pull you into the film and thrill you. The style and look of the animation is as good as before, but seemingly even more polished, and the sound design behind all of the chase scenes, explosions, guns and everything else just pop out at you.
This film does feel a bit more adult in its context because it is a spy/James Bond-type of storyline, so there is lots of peril and violence. Nothing too graphic or disturbing. but parents might be surprised by how many cars get seriously hurt or possibly even die during all of the action sequences. It isn’t disturbing and most kids probably won’t even notice, but parents and adults might take notice to the slightly higher level of violence in this film.
The story and dialogue are sophisticated and fun, while it panders to the children and lets them have their “potty humor” and other jokes that will have them cracking-up, it also has another side to it completely — all of the spy movie spoofing, automotive puns and many other film references that will entertain the adults while probably going over the kids’ heads.
All of the actors voice the characters with real passion and it shines through in their performances. Larry the Cable Guy really has taken his performance up-a-notch for this film and the simple yet lovable Mater is explored even more and we get to fall in love with this big-hearted tow truck all over again. Besides the main cast, there is a flurry of new voices added to the film and many cameos by famous stars and racers including Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Bruce Campbell, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave and many more. See if you can catch them while you are watching the film.
“Cars 2” is a success on most avenues and while it might take multiple viewings to get the kids as obsessed with it as they are the original, I’m sure you will get the chance to do so either in theaters this summer or on DVD this fall. So if you have kids, or just plain love animated features, then you can list “Cars 2” among the soon to be family favorites.
“Cars 2” races into theaters June 24 and will be available to view in 2D, 3D and the ultimate IMAX 3D.
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