Merchandise in lieu of a movie

Michael Phillips | Boulder Weekly


Cars 2 had every chance to improve upon the leisurely 2006 animated feature from Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Studios. Yet here we are, stuck with a merchandising assembly line in lieu of a movie. Despite its technical and design finesse, this ranks as Pixar’s weakest project to date, as well as the first from the animation powerhouse that can be described as craven.

Twelve films into the life and times of Pixar, it’s clear the Cars pictures are best assessed as the Disney stockholders’ pals, skewing young and younger, the ones that pay for masterworks such as Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up. Director John Lasseter’s sequel smooshes the vehicular ensemble of the first Cars into a nefarious James Bond universe, heavy on the missiles, ray guns, Gatling guns and electrocutions. Sound peculiar? It is peculiar.

It is also gabby. For a film so clearly dependent on its racing and chase sequences, which have their moments, certainly, in 3-D, Cars 2 never seems to shut up. Yet it’s virtually joke-free, beyond the sort of easy cultural stereotypes that recall the live-action road-rally outings of my youth: The Great Race or, lower down the quality pole, Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies.

Lightning McQueen, once again voiced by Owen Wilson, spends much of the chaotic screenplay idling in the corner, while his Radiator Springs pal Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, delivering every line with the exact same cadence) takes the story lead. McQueen competes in three separate World Grand Prix races, one in Tokyo, one along the Italian Riviera coast and one in London. Meantime, Mater — a good ol’ boy embarrassment to his friend — is mistaken for a cunning American secret agent by Aston Martin superspy Finn McMissile, voiced by Michael Caine. McMissile and his field operative Holley Shiftwell risk their steering columns trying to crack a global conspiracy set up by the Thunderball-like prologue, set on a series of petroleum derricks at sea.

The tone and emphasis of Cars 2 veers off course from the start. Too many guns, for one thing. The whole thing is too weapons-dependent to be charming. There’s plenty to watch here, and preteens who found the first Cars a bit pokey won’t have the same reaction to this frenetic, globe-trotting follow-up. But I got little pleasure from seeing these cars (plus boats, and a plane) thrown into the spy thriller genre. It’s an intriguing story risk at best, a protracted stunt at worst. The greatest Pixar films have sampled, freeform, an unpredictable variety of moods and styles. Here the mash-ups refuse to jell, and even Michael Giacchino’s score sounds like someone less talented than Michael Giacchino composed it.

Cars 2 is preceded by a zippy Toy Story cartoon, “Hawaiian Vacation,” in which Woody and Buzz and friends treat Ken and Barbie to a faux-tropical getaway. In sharp contrast to Cars 2, it reminds you how durable and ingratiating the Toy Story gang remains well into its franchise.

—MCT, Tribune Media Service