Monday, June 27, 2011

'Cars 2:' Pixar's worst is still better than everything else

When you're Pixar and your movies have all been critical and box office successes, the expectations are higher with every new release. "Cars 2," the sequel to the merchandising powerhouse "Cars" is Pixar's 12th big release and the first time critics have given a less than glowing review.

However, the worst Pixar movie is still better than most films currently in theaters.

"Cars 2" opens with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) winning his fourth Piston Cup and returning home to Radiator Springs. He is now dating Sally the Porsche and the rest of the town has thrived because of his presence.

His best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is particularly happy to see him. He is so ecstatic that he won't let Sally and Lightning have any alone time. A comedy of errors by Mater leads to Lightning being talked into entering an alternative fuel race around the world against a brash Formula 1 car named Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro).

The race starts in Japan and this is where the beauty of Pixar is on display. Though Tim can comment better than I can, the animators did a great job bring Japan to life. The details of the animation captured the spirit of the country spectacularly. The colors and the excitement added to the authenticity of the setting.

Unfortunately, this is where the story got a little too crazy, as Mater was mistaken for a secret agent and found himself caught up in a plot to destroy the racers. The idea is that his cover as a bumbling tow truck is so good it can fool anyone.

The problem is Finn McMissile, played perfectly by Michael Caine, is established as the best spy in the world, so there's no way he should fall for this. Anyway, after a fight with Lightning, Mater sets out on a secret mission with Finn and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).

When the race moves to Italy, the scenery once again becomes the star, as Italy is animated even better than Japan. This is also where the audience gets to meet Luigi's family, voiced by Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave.

It's worth noting that the voice cast also features many of the favorites from the first film and includes newcomers like Eddie Izzard, Joe Mantegna, Jason Issacs and Thomas Kretschmann.

There is also a nice moment in the beginning of the film where Lightning and Mater discuss Doc, voiced by the late Paul Newman. It was a fitting tribute since "Cars" turned out to be his last film.

What's great about the quality of Pixar's films is that even if the movie isn't one of your favorites, there's always lots of little jokes to keep you busy.

In "Cars 2" these jokes come in the form of real people re-imagined as cars. For example, the commentators of the race are Brent Mustangburger, David Hobbscap and Darrell Cartrip. A crab boat is voiced by Sig Hansen of "Deadliest Catch" and Jeff Gordon and Lewis Hamilton play race cars.

These little touches help sustain the audience during the completely improbable plot devices. At one point, Mater is driving away from Lightning because the bad guys have strapped a bomb to him and Lightning is chasing him through the streets apologizing. It was a silly scene that seemed out of place with the rest of the movie.

The big finale takes place in England and again the background is a scene stealer. The big reveal of the bad guy takes place in front of Buckingham Palace with The Queen and Prince William present. Try as they might, the filmmakers didn't really surprise anyone with who the villain is. Another major mistake, since usually Pixar villains are so well developed.

Overall "Cars 2" may be Pixar's first big critical letdown but it's still a fun and entertaining movie that will make a lot of money at the box office.

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