Anthony's Film Review
Cars 2 (2011)
Cars 2 is dramatically different from its predecessor, yet manages to be a lot more entertaining and imaginative...
Pixar's 2006 film Cars was one that I found to be good, though predictable and fairly simple with its themes of friendship. Because that was all the movie offered, it's hard to imagine that Cars would have a sequel. Even if there were a sequel, it would still be hard to picture what that movie would look like, because there's the risk of rehashing the original without offering anything new. In such a situation, the only way to possibly make the sequel successful is to do something different from the original. Pixar definitely took this risk with Cars 2, to the point where some people could argue that this film has jumped the shark (being so different from the original in a weird way).
Whereas the original Cars movie centered on anthropomorphic cars in the desert town of Radiator Sprints, Cars 2 is a spy thriller in which some of the main Radiator Springs residents go around the world and cross paths with danger. Yes, you heard that right. The plot of Cars 2 is mostly oriented in espionage and mixes a small amount of what you remember from the first Cars movie with plenty of action sequences. At times, the film might feel a bit gloomy and dark. Then again, Pixar's 2004 film The Incredibles was an animated action movie and Toy Story 3 had sort of a grim tone to it as well, but I liked both of those films.
So let's go over the two plotlines in Cars 2. The primary plotline features Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), a British spy car modeled after James Bond's Aston Martin DB5. He and his ally, Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), are on a mission that centers on the smuggling of a mysterious camera-like device. The first scene of the movie presents McMissile sneaking onto an oil rig and spying on an evil group of cars. It really sets the tone for the movie, one that is a little dark and suspenseful with explosions and gunfire that make Cars 2 the most action-packed Pixar film since The Incredibles.
The secondary plotline centers on race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his rusty tow truck friend Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) in Radiator Springs. Lightning is taking a need break from racing, but one day, he is lured into the World Grand Prix to face off against a rival Italian race car named Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). This racing event would involve a series of races in Japan, Italy, and England. One thing is definitely striking. Tow Mater, previously a supporting character in the first Cars movie, is now the main character in Cars 2. Lightning McQueen, the principal character of the first movie, is now relegated to the status of a secondary character.
The good news is that these two seemingly clashing sets of events do connect smoothly. McMissile and Shiftwell discover a plot that involves sabotaging the World Grand Prix. I won't mention explicitly what the motive is, but let's just say it cleverly incorporates something from car culture and something from environmental affairs. Meanwhile, random events lead Mater into being mistaken for an American spy and working alongside McMissile and Shiftwell. From there, the story is one you might have seen before: two characters misunderstanding each other, with subsequent events that amazingly go right for both of them.
Now it's time for me to share my thoughts about reviews for this movie. Cars 2 will no doubt divide the audience. I imagine that some people will dislike the movie because the spy story is the more dominant plot and because Tow Mater, not Lightning McQueen, is the character from the first Cars movie who is now the main character here. For me, as much as I like Lightning McQueen, I look at the two Cars movies as centering on talking cars in general, not necessarily on specific characters. Plus, Lightning already has glory as a race car. It's about time that Tow Mater has some cool adventure of his own. This is why I had no problem with the two major changes.
Audience expectation certainly plays a role here. It is true that Pixar is best known for G-rated animated films that please both kids and adults alike, including Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo. But if you think about it, that's only one category of Pixar films. The other consists of PG-rated animated action-adventure films, namely The Incredibles and Up. If you compare Cars 2 with Pixar's G-rated films, of course you're going to be disappointed. That's why I think Cars 2 should be viewed in the same context as the PG-rated Pixar films, even though the first Cars movie would belong in the other category.
To me, the thing that defines Pixar is imagination and creativity. It doesn't matter what type of story Pixar delivers. In the end, the story captivates the audience one way or another. This is true for all of Pixar's feature-length animated films made since its founding 25 years ago. So going back to Cars 2, I really loved the whole story, how it moved me along, kept me interested, and even threw a good twist near the end of the climax. I also loved the characters, even if Tow Mater does talk a little too much at times. On top of this, I loved how this movie went beyond the first Cars movie visually, including how human qualities are given to car models not seen in the original Cars and also to non-car vehicles, like commercial planes, private jets, boats, and battleships.
Basically, if you have expectations for what Cars 2 should be, you might not like the movie. But if you really keep an open mind and remember that Pixar is known for creativity in multiple ways, this movie should be a lot of fun, even if there is a genre shift from Cars 1 to Cars 2. So in my opinion, Pixar still continues to deliver quality entertainment. Cars 2 is another fine example, one that is quite different from previous Pixar films but nevertheless a very imaginative piece of work.
For more information about Cars 2, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my review of Cars and Cars 3.