‘Cars 2’ puts formula in formula racing

July 4, 2011
“Cars 2” feels like the most elaborate direct-to-video sequel of all time (which, ironically, the second “Toy Story” was originally scheduled to be).

Of all the things that were missing from the first "Cars" - and the were many - more screen time for Larry The Cable Guy was not one of them.

Yet, in "Cars 2," he takes center stage for the majority of the film's run time. Sure, he's represented by a rusty tow truck on the screen, but it's pure Larry The Cable Guy, with stupidity emblazoned on him like a Trans-Am hood bird, making this marginal Pixar entry as fun as a rainy-day weekend trip along Route 1 in the summertime.

It pains me to speak ill of Pixar, a studio that has consistently provided me and my family with hours of indelible cinematic memories year after year. The original "Cars" is the only film from the Pixar library that is not in regular rotation in our DVD player (even the animated shorts compilation gets more love).

But Pixar has demonstrated with "Toy Story" that its sequels can build firmly on the originals and even improve in spots. So if anyone could put the film back on course with others in its catalog, it is Pixar. At the very least, the studio would give it a nice fresh coat of paint and oil change, right?

I suppose even Pixar needs to pay the bills once in a while, and even though "Cars" was both the least commercially and critically successful offering, it was a merchandising goliath (with an estimated $5 billion in toys and such). So now we find ourselves behind the wheel of "Cars 2," which feels like the most elaborate direct-to-video sequel of all time (which, ironically, the second "Toy Story" was originally scheduled to be).

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has decided to head back to the track, this time entering the World Grand Prix, a three-continent race in which a taunting nemesis, Francesco (voiced by John Tuturro), is favored. McQueen brings buddy Mater (voiced by Larry The Cable Guy) with him. This gives Mater the opportunity to demonstrate his ignorance globally, and gives us the misfortune of prolonged stretches of his homespun "humor." And when we're not being treated to hayseed pearls of wisdom, "Cars 2" packs it trunk with yet another lame attempt at '60s-era British spy flicks (Is that really the best they could come up with? Hasn't Austin Powers successfully torpedoed this genre for mockery with "Goldmember?"). Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer give voice to Finn McMissle and Holly Shiftwell, respectively, two international spies who aim to stop a villainous vehicle with - what else? - plans for global dominance

The town of Radiator Springs, the one pit stop of humanity and character in the first film, is but a footnote, as are all its inhabitants. The film's soundtrack, which was hackneyed in the first (did we really need another cover of "Life is a Highway"?) is equally uninspired here. Weezer's contribution of "You Might Think" stays close to the original by The Cars (get it?).

The best that can be mustered is the company's continued commitment to visuals. Every chunk of gravel, tread of tire and sparkle of chrome is as detailed as it is striking. They continue to end in the winner's circle for animated excellence.

Sadly, there is little else for anyone but the youngest of audiences to get from "Cars 2." It puts the "formula" in formula racing.

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