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Cars 2

Cars 2

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE Cars ‘franchise’ continues to be something of an Achilles’ heel for Pixar. A labour of love for its creator John Lasseter, it nevertheless struggles to captivate audiences of all ages in quite the same way as the studio’s other films.

If the 2006 model often meandered when it should have hit cruise control, the 2011 upgrade certainly manages to go through the gears more slickly. But it lacks the emotional investment of the likes of Toy Story, Wall-E or Up and plays much better to the undemanding kids than viewers of every age.

What’s more, it carries the faintest whiff of a cynical streak, given that its main reason for being arguably stems from the lucrative merchandise spin-offs that accompany it, and which helped the original become far more profitable than its box office alone suggests.

Not that Pixar do things by half measures and its plain to see that both films are deeply held passion projects for Lasseter.

So, where the original was designed as an homage to his love for automobiles and his desire to shine a light on a forgotten part of America (namely, the small towns that occupy Route 66), the sequel also pays respectful homage to the spy movies of the ‘60s (007 especially) as well as the true power of friendship.

It’s also fun in places, visually breathtaking and often very amusing. But it does outstay its welcome, while presenting a set of characters who somehow fail to capture the imagination as much as Woody, Wall-E, Nemo and co.

The story this time finds hotshot racer Lightning McQueen (once again voiced by Owen Wilson) invited to compete in a World Grand Prix and taking rusty best friend Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) along for the ride.

But while McQueen has his work cut out trying to beat F1 hero Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), Mater unwittingly becomes embroiled in a spy mission involving alternative fuels that sees him hooking up with two British spies – Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and rookie agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) – in a bid to eventually prevent his best friend from being killed.

The ensuing adventure takes the Car-toon heroes from Radiator Springs to Tokyo, Paris, Italy and London, mixing exciting race sequences with comical spy capers.

But while attention to detail is typically spot-on and there are plenty of moments to enjoy, there’s also something missing and overall enjoyment depends on how much you buy into and tolerate Mater’s laidback shtick.

Perhaps this is due to the suspicion that the Cars characters are more self-centred than others, of the fact that the family friendly themes (of remaining true to yourself and loyal to your friends) are laid on more heavily than in their other movies.

The over-extended finale, in particular, is rife with message-making that often detracts from the adventure at hand. It’s almost as if Lasseter has been allowed to over-indulge himself without some self-editing.

Cars shortcomings also aren’t helped by a Toy Story short that opens proceedings, reuniting all the characters from the brilliant third movie to such deliriously funny effect that you can’t help but spend parts of Cars 2 pining for their return.

But maybe this is being overly harsh on the one (Pixar) we love. For as fault-laden as this sequel remains, there is still plenty to recommend it, especially for the kids.

The visuals (in obligatory 3D) are amazing, especially in the way that Lasseter and co have painstakingly created a credible Cars universe complete with Pope-mobiles, a Queen and Cars-themed monuments.

While the spy element is often highly amusing (Mater’s escapade in a Japanese loo being one particular highlight) as well as deeply reverential in its nods to James Bond.

Both Caine and Mortimer make worthwhile additions to the Cars universe and arguably deserve a couple of adventures (or shorts) of their own.

The race action, meanwhile, is slickly delivered with Turturro providing a suitably OTT rival to Wilson’s laidback McQueen, and the script is laden with wonderfully throw-away gags (often stemming from Mater’s bumbling but amicable nature).

The overall result therefore remains enjoyable for the most part, even if the franchise as a whole continues to remain the weakest and least generation-spanning of their universes.

Certificate: U
Running time: 106mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 21, 2011