There is little denying that Pixar is the undisputed king of animated feature films and over the last few years the studio hasn’t just been releasing the best animated films in the industry but some of the best films period. While Pixar films have always had a sense of quality about them their films over the last few years have been on another level and it had to be expected that eventually the studio that could do no wrong would release a film that did not get it done. Cars 2 is that film.
The original Cars was a moderate financial success for Pixar but was considered by many critics (although not this one) to be their weakest film to date. The company line from Pixar has always been that they would never do a sequel unless they could come up with at least a story as strong as the original and on paper Cars 2 probably sounded fantastic. After all what is not to like about international locations, spies and alternative fuel?
Cars 2 picks up a few years after the original. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has won multiple Piston Cups and is content with his life. After each race season he retires to Radiator Springs where his best friend Mater the tow truck (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) and his beautiful Porsche girlfriend patiently wait for him. Mater takes great pride in being friends with Lightning and defends his friend at every turn, this of course is how Lightning gets roped into doing an international Grand Prix to determine the fastest car in the world. Of course there is more to the Grand Prix than meets the eye with an international terrorist organization pulling the strings from behind. Mater of course gets mixed up with everything by sheer dumb luck, gets mistaken for an American spy and tasked with cracking the mysterious case. As such the focus shifts off Lightning and onto Mater as the star of the film and therein lies the crux of the problem.
Simply put, Mater is not a good character. He has no depth and his dumb hillbilly persona is primarily played for laughs. The story that Cars 2 tries to present is James Bond-lite and Mater just doesn’t fit into that type of story. To Pixar’s credit they understand this and play up the fish-out-of-water element that should work for some quality laughs but sadly it falls flat, with the humor relying more on school yard humor than anything actually funny. Considering Pixar’s track record, it is quite surprising to see how poorly they handle the actual material.
Whereas previous Pixar films had material that appealed to both children and their parents, Cars 2 plays only to its target audience, children. It is big and loud, filled with action but with nary any substance. The saving grace of the film is its animation, which as with all Pixar films is downright beautiful. But when the talking point of the film is how good it looks, instead of how good it is there is a problem.
Cars 2 easily ranks as Pixar’s worst film. Not only is it not up to the usual quality standards set by the animation giant but it is not up to the standards of other contemporary films in its medium.
2 out of 5.