‘Cars 2’ not Pixar perfect

2011-07-11 00:00

MAKING a sequel to Pixar’s 2006 film Cars — arguably the animation studio’s least inspired effort — was always a bit confusing to me. In Cars 2 it feels as if the film is trying too hard to be sold, and it’s surprisingly laborious and not as satisfying as one might expect.

In the film-makers’ favour there’s at least an effort to blaze a new trail rather than retread the premise and themes of the first Cars. Here Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) and two new characters — British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) — are the focus. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is prominently featured, but his role is secondary, mainly to demonstrate the importance of friendship.

Lightning is now a hotshot champion on the racing circuit, travelling around the world and participating in the World Grand Prix. His main competition is Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), who claims to be the fastest car on Earth.

Accompanying Lightning on the journey is Mater, acting as a member of the pit crew. The race appears to be at the centre of international criminal activities, with Finn, a 007-inspired Aston Martin, and his faithful sidekick Holley investigating the underhand shenanigans. In the process Mater is mistakenly identified as an American spy, and the stage is set for the rural, rusty truck to save the world and get the girl.

It’s always difficult to keep a franchise feeling fresh, and Cars 2 strains under the expectations. That said, Pixar has not slipped visually.

It’s a dazzling display of great animation, with the cars lovingly rendered and the great cities of the world are represented in all their bright, neon glory.

Recent Pixar offerings such as Up and Toy Story 3 were always going to be tough to trump in the sense of multiple levels of sophistication, and alas Cars 2 is the inevitable letdown.

It’s all Pixar’s fault for setting their own benchmark so high. **

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