"Cars 2," drives in the same circles

“Cars 2” 3/5 Pitchforks Rated: G Staring: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy Opens June 24

The first “Cars” was a fun and zippy ride that still holds the title for the greatest talking car movie possible. However, I think we can all agree that the film lacked the innovation that made all of the other Pixar animations instant classics.

Given its dark horse status, I was surprised when I learned that Pixar was planning a sequel to “Cars.” Why make a sequel to what many consider to be the studios weak link, especially when the universes of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” have unlimited possibilities for further stories? I can’t help but feel that it’s because “Cars” was one of Pixar’s most marketable pictures and “Cars 2” offers a chance for the studio to sell more Lightning McQueen toy cars.

Then I began to think to myself maybe the first “Cars” was the dress rehearsal. Perhaps “Cars 2” will be the rare sequel that improves upon the original and finally delivers the masterpiece I’ve been waiting for. But like the first “Cars,” “Cars 2” is just pretty good. For any other animation studio “pretty good” might be a high compliment. For the computer geniuses at Pixar though, “pretty good” is kind of a letdown. The audience may be at fault for simply having too high of expectations. But the film itself also has to be held accountable for not entirely living up to those expectations.

Owen Wilson is back as Lightning McQueen, who has won multiple Piston Cups since the previous film. Now he’s competing in the World Grand Prix, a race that takes place in Japan, Italy, and England. Lightning is accompanied by his loyal pit crew, which includes Larry the Cable Guy’s redneck tow truck Mater.

There are essentially two movies here. One of which is about the unlikely friendship between the hotshot Lightning and the obliviously crude Mater. The other is a thrilling spy movie. For my money, the second movie is by far the more entertaining.

Michael Caine does great voiceover work as Finn McMissille, a British spy car that evokes memories of Sean Connery’s days as Bond. Also fun here is Emily Mortimer as Holley Shiftwell, a sexy rookie spy car acting as an apprentice to Finn. Through a series of misunderstandings, McMissille and Holley mistake Mater for a fellow spy. They rope Mater into their mission to prevent a plot to prevent the elimination of alternative fuel. This leads to several beautifully animated action sequences that are almost as exciting as some of the car chases in the better 007 movies.

One problem with “Cars 2” is that the film seems confused to who it’s hero is supposed to be. Where Lightning McQueen was the clear lead in the foremost film, “Cars 2” mainly focuses on Mater. Mater is fine as a supporting player I guess. But a little of the character goes a long way. The most interesting characters are by far Caine’s McMissille and Mortimer’s Holley. John Turturro is also a welcome addition as Francesco Bernoulli, a cocky Italian racecar determined to beat Lightning.

As for the humor, much of it borders along the lines of “Flintstones” territory. Where a majority of the gags in “The Flintstones” revolved around rock and dinosaur puns, here we get automobile jokes galore. A lot of these jokes are clever and warrant smiles, but none of them ever leave you laughing too loudly. The funniest part of “Cars 2” is actually a short film featuring the “Toy Story” gang with Barbie and Ken on a Hawaiian Vacation. I guess that just goes to show how superior of a series “Toy Story” is in comparison to “Cars.”

It’s a close call for me. But I am giving “Cars 2” a mild recommendation, primarily for younger audiences. While it’s not a great sequel like “Toy Story 2” or “Toy Story 3,” it is considerably better than a lot of animated sequels we’re plagued with.

I just wish that “Cars 2” had finally answered the question I’ve been pondering since the first film. Where are all the humans in this universe? Their world is identical to ours other than the fact that it’s populated by talking cars. Did machines overthrow man and take control of the world? Is this the lighter aftermath of “The Terminator?” Perhaps that would make a suitable storyline for “Cars 3.”

Reach the reporter at nspake@asu.edu.

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