“Hey everybody, McQueen’s back.”
Cars is only the second film in Pixar history to have at least one sequel added to the franchise. Of course, all of that is about to change. Monster University will explore the world of Monsters, Inc as a prequel. Brad Bird has recently spoken about plans for a follow-up to The Incredibles. And Toy Story appears ready to continue at least a little longer into the future. Personally, I’ve been looking forward to the Monsters film. But after watching Cars 2 I’m a little bit worried, and with good reason. This might well be the weakest film from the creative team to date.
“No one realizes they’re being fooled, because they’re too busy laughing at the fool.”
You have to ask yourself why Cars jumped in front of the line for such a quick sequel in the first place. The cynic in me thinks it might be all about the toys. The unique world of Cars leaves more room for marketing toys than any movie they have outside of Toy Story itself. And, come to think of it, that happens to be the other film to get the sequel treatment. The only difference, a pretty big one to be sure, is that both of the Toy Story sequels have been quality films that have lived up to the reputation of the studio and the original film. I wish I could say the same here. If it weren’t for the toy potential why did Cars get to the sequel finish line so quickly? I’d like to believe that marketing wasn’t the driving force here, pun intended. Unfortunately, just a quick run around this new track and I’m afraid you’ll be asking the same questions.
Lightning McQueen (Wilson) has just returned to Radiator Springs after a grueling racing tour where he’s brought home more than a few trophies. When Italian formula 1 car Francesco Bernoulli (Turturro) taunts McQueen on a television talk show, Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) calls in to defend his best pal. Before you know it McQueen ends up taking the challenge to join a three-race world grand prix. The races were organized by Sir Miles Axelrod (Izzard) to prove his new alternative fuel works. To reward his friend, McQueen agrees to take Mater along for the tour.
Enter the British super-spy Finn McMissile (Caine) and his partner fellow spy Holley Shiftwell (Mortimer). They’ve been on the trail of a group of bad guys, and it’s led them to the grand prix race where Mater gets set up in a case of mistaken identity and ends up on the spy team. An international group of lemons have gotten tired of getting ridiculed and are out for revenge. They’re going to use the fuel and the race to take out the “pretty” cars and drive the world back to the gritty gas-guzzler days. They are taking out the racers, and Mater might be the only thing standing in the way of McQueen becoming their final victim.
While all of the original characters are back for this second film most of them have just extended cameos. Of course Paul Newman isn’t able to return, and the film pays tribute to the late actor by taking time to honor the character of Doc Hudson, who has also passed away. It was nice of the team to retire the character and not try to replace Newman. The same isn’t true of the Fillmore character originally played by George Carlin. He’s been replaced by Lloyd Sherr, and the difference is quite noticeable. Fillmore should have also been retired. It’s especially true since, like the other original characters, he is not vital to the story and relegated to just a few minutes of screen time. The same backseat demotions are in order for the likes of: Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, and most of the others. Fans of the first film will be disappointed in how little focus there is on Lightning McQueen. This is a Mater movie without a doubt, and he has become the face of this franchise. It started with the shorts that followed the first film and has been solidified here.
The voice cast does introduce some rather sweet characters. Michael Caine plays the spy McMissile, and Emily Mortimer is his female partner Shiftwell. There’s no disguising the intended James Bond elements here, including a prelude adventure with the spies that is right out of the Bond film handbook. It’s a nice concept, to be sure, but I’m not sure the two worlds really mixed as well as the filmmakers had intended. It’s one of those things that must have sounded much better on paper. Anyway, the new voice cast also includes Eddie Izzard as the race organizer Axelrod. Joe Mantegna provides a ton of laughs as Grem, a Gremlin henchcar to the lemon gang. Brent Musburger joins the cast as race announcer Brent Mustangburger. Okay, that one was cute.
If the story was a little weak and disappointing, there is at least one reason to check out the film at least once. Pixar continues to push the envelope with what is possible through computer-generated animation. The work continues to get more photo-real with every film. Textures are just off the charts. There are a lot of shiny surfaces here, and the reflections and light play is simply awesome. Water continues to be an element that once looked quite bad on these kinds of films but is now looking better and better each time.
Cars 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. The film looks incredible from start to finish. Colors are bright with a lot of shine and gleam. Lighting is perfect, including the surface reflections. You really can’t beat the high-definition image presentation. Pixar and Disney have combined for another awesome release as far as the look is concerned.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is as lively and dynamic as anything the studio has released. The surround speakers offer plenty of opportunities for cars to race around your theater. It’s an aggressive mix that puts you right smack dab in the middle of all of the action. The score is the typical Pixar upbeat and bouncy music that comes through just dandy in the mix. Dialog works every time. Subs give you just enough punch to pound some RPM’s into those racing engines.
This is another disappointing aspect of the release. There are only 2 short bonus features in addition to a commentary.
Hawaiian Vacation: (5:53) HD This is the Toy Story short that accompanied the film at the theaters.
Air Matter: (5:25) HD Another short to feature Mater telling another tall tale and also working as a tie-in for the forthcoming Pixar film Planes.
This might be the first Pixar film not to make back its budget in domestic box office sales. It went up against some pretty monster superhero movies and clocked in at a little under two hundred million. Not to worry. Once the international market gets added the film may fall short of the traditional billion bucks, but there’s plenty of money to keep the studio in toys and computers. It’s not an awful film, but I don’t think it deserves the same place on your video shelf. I’d rent this one first and see what kind of miles per gallon you get out of it with your own kids. Until next time, “Ciao McQueen”.