Director: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
The adage implies that if it ain't broken, you shouldn't be fixing it right? Well, they should add "or messing with it" in order to describe the history of Pixar and Cars. The original movie is now mostly remembered for being Paul Newman's last fiction motion picture and for breaking Pixar's streak of perfect critical scores. It was received without much fanfare and never really achieved the transcendence of other films by the studio (how often do you hear anyone quote Mater the tow truck?). Apparently though, the film and its characters were deeply loved within the company and in order to atone for previous sins (or critical head-scratches) they decided to give Cars a twist, precisely be relieving it of everything that made the first installment endearing, if not completely successful.
The problem with Cars was never that it was a bad movie, because it's not. The "problem" was that it was a big fluffy piece of good old fashioned Americana. Obviously this love for purely American mythical figures (Route 66 and such) made it impossible to connect from coming from an international perspective (heck even immigrants must've felt alienated by it).
Pixar failed to see that the international response didn't really spell "failure", it just meant that they had crafted a specifically American art piece which failed to resonate with foreigners (and even more progressive audiences within the country) in the way that country music, Norman Rockwell and Westerns do.
Instead of actually grabbing on to this patriotic fervor (Cars is unarguably propagandistic in post 9/11 terms) the studio wanted everyone to love it and Cars 2 commits the cardinal sin of misunderstood local ideals: it transports and experiments with them in different locales.
Like the proverbial fish out of water, Cars 2 takes Mater the tow truck and turns him into an accidental spy (think If Looks Could Kill) trying to solve a mysterious set of car murders (carders?) during the first World Grand Prix, organized by extravagant billionaire Miles Axlerod (think Sir Richard Branson as a talking Range Rover which he kinda is, no?)
Mater not only will prove he's no redneck truck (which he is) he also will help save his dear friend, race-car, Lighting McQueen from the evil forces trying to destroy him.
In a nutshell the film is a James Bond spoof by way of anthropomorphic vehicles that fails to elicit any actual emotional connection with audiences but delivers exciting chase sequences and some of the most beautiful animation that has graced the screen so far.
There is so much going on in this film, plot-wise, that it's pretty safe to say that most children won't even know what's going on, much less will they understand the sly humor, which in delicious Austin Powers tradition names a female car Hollwy Shiftwell. That her colleague is the sexy spy Finn McMissile does little to prevent double entendres from forming in older audience members' minds.
The film features clever little jokes, the reference to Ratatouille's restaurant in a Paris sequence is especially endearing as is the entire part of the movie set in Japan, but overall it's pretty much child's play that might get a bit too complicated for kids.
Most troubling of all is perhaps the film's message which precisely contradicts the entire existence of this installment other than financial reasons. After almost two hours of endless activity, flashy animation (fortunately no seizures were reported) and obnoxiousness by way of extreme cuteness, the film tells us that we should be who we are, wherever we are.
As if to continue the Born This Way manifesto of most 2011 blockbusters, Cars 2 shouts out loud that you should be proud of who you are, after making you spend your hard earned money in a shallow, mildly entertaining ride.