×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cars 2

John Lasseter and his team have hit the creative accelerator with this unexpectedly delightful sequel.

With:
Voices:
Mater - Larry the Cable Guy
Lightning McQueen - Owen Wilson
Finn McMissile - Michael Caine
Holley Shiftwell - Emily Mortimer
Miles Axlerod - Eddie Izzard
Francesco Bernoulli - John Turturro

If “Cars” was perhaps the least engaging of Pixar’s hugely successful animated features, John Lasseter and his team have hit the creative accelerator with the unexpectedly delightful “Cars 2.” The rare sequel that improves on its predecessor, this lightning-paced caper-comedy shifts the franchise into high gear with international intrigue, spy-movie spoofery and more automotive puns than you can shake a stickshift at, handling even its broader stretches with sophistication, speed and effortless panache. High-performance B.O. is assured, but as with “Cars,” ancillary/merchandising is where this expertly souped-up entertainment will leave others in the dust.

As it recently reaffirmed with “Toy Story 3,” Pixar never ventures into the bottom-line-driven sequel market without the essentials of a good story and a clear artistic purpose. Working from a whip-smart script by Ben Queen (a relative newcomer with the salient TV credit “Drive”), Lasseter has not only invigorated his original concept but enabled the viewer to appreciate and share his passion for this unique corner of the Disney toon-iverse.

With 2006’s “Cars,” the helmer fashioned a lovely, lackadaisical piece of Americana, evoking a bygone world of pit stops and open roads inhabited by anthropomorphized automobiles. This time, Lasseter abandons Route 66 nostalgia to deliver a giddily escapist action-thriller that moves too swiftly and assuredly for the viewer to do anything but sit back and enjoy the ride. Result may look like a more conventional assembly-line product than its soulful predecessor, but “Cars 2” is nothing if not personal; not a frame goes by where you can’t hear Lasseter’s inner child squealing with pleasure.

The adjustments are clear from the brilliant opening chase sequence, in which suave British spy Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) outguns and outruns the minions of monocle-wearing German scientist Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann). It’s characteristic of the film’s cleverness that it never winks at the absurdity of enacting such a standard spy-thriller setup with cars; yet that unacknowledged element is what makes the pastiche feel so fresh and witty, and the deliriously inventive manner in which the sequence keeps topping itself sets a thrilling pattern for developments to come.

But first, the story slows down for a quick stopover in Radiator Springs, the now-thriving home of Piston Cup-winning racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his best friend, rusty-brained tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). When Lightning is invited to compete with arrogant Formula champion Francesco Bernoulli (a hammy John Turturro) in the World Grand Prix, he decides to bring Mater along, unaware of the trouble the easily distracted, socially embarrassing truck will stir up.

“Cars 2,” in fact, is really Mater’s movie, expanding the first film’s friendship-driven themes from the moving perspective of a character whom others are quick to dismiss as a dumb sidekick. The first big setpiece in Tokyo offers marvelous fish-out-of-water comedy as Mater cluelessly chugs his way through this bewildering neon-colored metropolis; he also crosses paths with Finn and fetching associate Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who mistake Mater for an American spy. Soon the hapless truck finds himself at the center of an international conspiracy to sabotage the race, which is being sponsored by Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), chief proponent of an alternative fuel called Allinol.

Super-fast cars, cosmopolitan settings, sustainable energy — what’s not to love? Critics and columnists should have fun parsing the deeper political messages of “Cars 2,” which never allows its gas-guzzlers-vs.-hybrids topicality to overpower its exhilarating sense of play. As the film zips from Tokyo to Paris to the Italian Riviera to London, Lasseter, co-director Brad Lewis and their crack team of animators unleash the sort of wizardly action sequences most live-action directors would envy, powered by the brassy James Bond-style riffs of Michael Giacchino’s score. Pic allows the viewer to relax into a pleasurable groove even as its abundant in-jokes and peripheral details encourage the mind to stay actively engaged.

Set in a world where cars are outfitted with machine guns, rockets, parachutes, holographic displays and, in perhaps one innovation too far, insta-disguise mechanisms, “Cars 2” is as close to a pure boys’ movie as the toon studio has yet made — though all boys’ movies should be so universal in appeal. More so than the Pixar norm, pic possesses a certain lowbrow streak entirely consistent with its vroom-vroom milieu, handily demonstrating that the often-aggravating staples of so much kid-friendly animation — nonstop banter, ethnic accents, goofy wordplay (mileage may vary), even bathroom humor — can be executed with wit and class.

Larry’s vocal turn lifts Mater to the pantheon of endearing Pixar creations even as he gets occasionally gets on the viewer’s nerves, as he should; with their more elegant diction, Caine and Mortimer provide a wonderful contrast as his formidable new allies. Almost every member of the original “Cars” gang gets at least a line or two, with the poignant exception of Doc Hudson, wisely not recast after the death of Paul Newman.

Pic will require frame-by-frame DVD scrutiny to fully appreciate the sheer number of creative choices that must have gone into its lensing, lighting and production design (informed by live location scouting), though the topnotch 3D treatment makes for an immersive experience best savored on the bigscreen.

Popular on Variety

Cars 2

Animated

Production: A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Pixar Animation Studios production. Produced by Denise Ream. Directed by John Lasseter. Co-director, Brad Lewis. Screenplay, Ben Queen; original story, Lasseter, Lewis, Dan Fogelman.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color domestic prints, Technicolor international prints, widescreen, 3D), Sharon Calahan, Jeremy Lasky; editor, Stephen Schaffer; music, Michael Giacchino; music supervisor, Tom MacDougall; production designer, Harley Jessup; art directors, Jay Shuster (character), Nat McLaughlin (sets), Bert Berry (shading); story supervisor, Nathan Stanton; supervising technical director, Apurva Shah; supervising animators, Shawn Krause, Dave Mullins; sound designer (Dolby Digital/Datasat/SDDS), Tom Myers; supervising sound editor, Michael Silvers; re-recording mixers, Michael Semanick, Tom Myers; effects supervisor, Gary Bruins; motion graphic effects supervisor, Michael Fu; associate producer, Mark Nielsen; casting, Kevin Reher, Natalie Lyon. Reviewed at Disney Studios, Burbank, June 14, 2011. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Voices:
Mater - Larry the Cable Guy
Lightning McQueen - Owen Wilson
Finn McMissile - Michael Caine
Holley Shiftwell - Emily Mortimer
Miles Axlerod - Eddie Izzard
Francesco Bernoulli - John TurturroWith: Brent Musburger, Joe Mantegna, Thomas Kretschmann, Peter Jacobson, Bonnie Hunt, Darrell Waltrip, Franco Nero, David Hobbs, Patrick Walker, Tony Shalhoub, Jeff Garlin, Michel Michelis, Jason Isaacs, Lloyd Sherr, Bruce Campbell, Teresa Gallagher, Jenifer Lewis, Stanley Townsend, Velibor Topic, Sig Hansen, Guido Quaroni, Vanessa Redgrave, John Maineri, Brad Lewis, Cheech Marin, John Lasseter.

More Film

  • CBS HEADQUARTERS

    CBS-Viacom Merger Details Revealed, Shares to Trade on Nasdaq

    Negotiations between CBS and Viacom went down to the wire on the day the long-gestating transaction was finally sealed on Aug. 13. CBS Corp. and Viacom revealed the timeline of the merger talks in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Thursday that runs more than 650 pages. Also Thursday, CBS and Viacom said the shares [...]

  • The Jesus Rolls

    Rome Film Review: 'The Jesus Rolls'

    The Jesus lives! The oddball bowling obsessive immortalized by John Turturro in “The Big Lebowski” resurfaces two decades later in “The Jesus Rolls,” a road movie every bit as eccentric as the character he played in the 1998 cult favorite. In a way, the “Lebowski” connection does a disservice to Turturro’s film — an in-spirit [...]

  • Abominable

    Malaysia Orders Cuts to 'Abominable' Over Controversial Map Scene

    Malaysia has ordered cuts to the U.S.-Chinese animated feature “Abominable,” which includes a scene involving a map that portrays China’s contested territorial claims in the South China Sea. The map scene has already caused the film to be banned in Vietnam. The Philippines’ foreign minister, Teodoro Locsin, called this week for “Abominable” to be boycotted, [...]

  • Kung Fu Panda 3

    Universal's Beijing Resort to Partner With Alibaba on Digitization

    Amid fierce controversy about the leverage China has over U.S. entertainment firms with significant mainland operations, Universal Beijing Resort and Alibaba announced a strategic partnership Thursday to digitize the forthcoming theme park in China’s capital. Facial recognition and the use of big data will be the norm at the new resort, which will use an [...]

  • They Shall Not Grow Old restoration

    Peter Jackson Documentary 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Nabs Limited China Release

    The Peter Jackson produced and directed World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” will hit Chinese theaters on November 11. Though it will roll out nationwide, it will do so via the China’s National Arthouse Alliance, which has limited screens. The 2018 documentary puts together interviews with WWI veterans and more than 100-year-old [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    'Zombieland: Double Tap' Hopes to Recapture Raunchy Zombie Magic, 10 Years Later

    Audiences may have a few questions about the sequel to 2009’s hit “Zombieland,” which opens Friday. Why did it take 10 years to make a second one, after the first grossed $102.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget, making it the third-biggest zombie movie of all time (second-biggest if you don’t count “Hotel Transylvania,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content