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'Cars 2' Stops Short of Smash Hit Status

Want to know if "Cars 2" is worth seeing? See if I give it a red or green light!

I‘ll admit I’m not the target audience for “Cars 2,” which opened Friday, June 24.

I was separated from most others in my theater by more than 10 years and a five o’clock shadow. But Pixar films still holds a big place in my 21-year-old heart and it isn’t just the nostalgia factor. Or is it?

The real magic of Pixar is their ability to make viewers feel like kids again. They have that Pixar sheen to them – that feeling of unbridled imagination, wide-eyed wonder and the sense that, no matter what, everything will end up all right.

When I was little, I had a mat that displayed a 2-D cityscape and I would occupy myself for hours driving toy cars across the fabric roads and streets, making up stories about where they were going. The very best moments of “Cars 2” brings to mind that feeling – the joy, adventure and whimsy of a child’s imagination.

Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between in a film that wanders, is surprisingly bland and sputters out of gas before the finish line.

“Cars 2” starts not long after part 1 ended. Racing champion Lightening McQueen returns to Radiator Springs for the summer and he is reunited with his best pal Mater, the rusty, redneck tow truck. After hearing about an international race, McQueen books a flight to Europe to compete against a cocky, Italian racecar, with Mater and the whole Radiator Springs gang coming along too.

But trouble is brewing oversees. An evil group of cars angry that they are deemed lemons (yes, you’re reading that right) under the leadership of a criminal mastermind are plotting to destroy the race and create worldwide havoc. Trying to thwart their plan are British agents Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell.

The two worlds collide in Japan during a party when Mater gets mistaken for an American spy and becomes thrust into a world of intrigue way over his head. What follows is a fairly standard mistaken identity spy story (think a James Bond flick with a hillbilly “My Cousin Vinnie” as his hapless sidekick).

Except for the characters, “Cars 2” feels like it’s in a different universe from the first. While the former was built on relationships, humor and a sweet storyline, the sequel leans too heavily on flashy action sequences. The film was conceived as a loving, kid-centered tribute to spy caper films, but it never meshes comfortably with the bright, child-like world of “Cars.”

Young kids will probably get scared by the ominous music and explosions and won’t get the homages. And there just isn’t enough witty humor or emotional content to keep older viewer’s attention.

Is “Cars 2” a bad movie? Not really. It has some entertaining scenes, funny gags and flashy visuals. But the story relies on over-used clichés and action sequences, instead of real human storytelling. And besides, did we really need the heavy-handed environmentally friendly stuff.

Side Note: “Hawaiian Vacation,” the “Toy Story” short film that ran before the feature is well worth watching. It has all the warm charm of “Toy Story 3” (one of the most entertaining and touching films in years) and was a welcome reunion with our favorite toys.

What I'd see this week:

For some adventure - “Super 8”

For some laughs - “Bridesmaids”

For some intellectual stimulation - “Midnight In Paris”

For the kids - “Kung Fu Panda 2”

Jenn McCulloch June 26, 2011 at 03:46 PM
My six-year-old said it was "Better than the best movie ever." While I don't quite agree with that, it was cute–not as good as the first–and I loved all the scenery in Japan, Italy and England.
Noah Golden June 28, 2011 at 05:09 AM
Yes, parts of it were cute and the scenery was quite beautiful, especially in Japan and Italy. I think part of the reason i was hard on it too was that i hold Pixar to a higher standard. Their films are usually so brilliant, this just fell particularly flat to me.

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