June 25, 2011 -- The latest Pixar movie, another sequel following last year's Toy Story 3, is “Cars 2.” This one, shockingly, actually may not win an Oscar for best animated film this year if the competition is as tough as it's been the past few years against films like “Coraline” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” Typically, Pixar runs roughshod over the competition, no matter how good the competition is, and wins almost every award in sight. Critical reaction to “Cars 2,” however, has been muted. It is a good film, but lacks the emotional punch of “Up” or the exquisite ending of “Toy Story 3.” Maybe this one is bad enough that some other studio will finally be allowed to win some of the top awards this year by the powers that be. Now that would be a surprise.
Instead of a unified storyline, “Cars 2” has a story which is split into two parts. One part is racing, with Lightning McQueen going head to head with egotistical Formula One racer Francesco Bernoulli in a series of European races. The other part is a spy story with Tow Mater, the Radiator Springs tow truck doing his best Inspector Jacques Clouseau impersonation as a witless spy. Mater gets mixed up in a conspiracy related to global oil supplies being investigated by British and American secret agents.
The British secret agent is very much like James Bond. He is named Finn McMissile, and is a fully tricked-out Aston Martin, of course. Another British agent, Holly Shiftwell, and an American agent help recruit Mater into the spy business. Mater is out of his element as a spy, but bumbles along pretty well, coming across a bit like the hero of “Coogan's Bluff” (Clint Eastwood) or Sam McCloud (Dennis Weaver) of the old “McCloud” TV series, guys who used homespun wiles, charm and toughness borne of the great American Southwest to aquit themselves with honor in urban settings. Attempts by Pixar to knit these two yarns together into one tale are not entirely successful.
The evil plot is masterminded by a villain who is not revealed until the end of the film. The plot itself is ridiculously complicated and improbable, but who cares? The film provides plenty of action and plenty of jokes for all ages. The story attempts to find a place for all the characters from the first film, but there really isn't room or time for everyone. As a result, Mater and his fellow spies become the main focus of the film and everyone else pretty much fades into the background, including McQueen and his girlfriend, Sally Carrera.
A notable absence from the first film is Doc, the Hudson Hornet. Hollywood legend Paul Newman, who provided the voice for Doc, died after the first film was made, and the character died with him. There is a bit of a left wing environmental message buried not too deep in this film, but probably it is sufficiently disguised so that it will not to bother right-wing political types very much. This film is a bit talky and the story is schizophrenic and lacks focus, but it works well enough and its got that slick, shiny, colorful Pixar look going for it. It rates a B.
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