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Cars 2 review - Pixar's big-budget bid for cash

Welcome back to the world of Cars. Did you miss it? Cars was John Lasseter's ode to America's love affair with the automobile, with the slick red racer Lightning McQueen on a journey to find himself and make a name for Radiator Springs, a forgotten town off Route 66. Replacing much of the heart and character development of the first movie, Cars 2 is a new spy thriller, complete with huge explosions, tons of car chases, a mystery, and a race around the entire world. This sequel couldn't be more sequelish if it tried. 

The star of the first movie, Lightning McQueen (Own Wilson) takes a backseat to his rusty sidekick Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). As McQueen enters into a World Championship race that takes the gang all around the globe, Mater gets caught up in a James Bond-like subplot with a British spy named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his assistent Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). (I couldn't have made up James Bond car names better myself.) Together, the two secret agents and Mater, a redneck American tow truck, attempt to stop a group evil cars from sabotaging the big race.

Can Cars eat?

Cars only works as a concept if you don't think very hard, and as such, the world of Cars has always been especially difficult for me to get into as an adult (though, I reckon I would have had trouble as a child too). I mean, automobiles were created by people, but there are no people in these movies. Instead we have an entire globe full of self-aware automobiles that appear to be half-mechanical and half living creatures. Boats, trains, and airplanes are all living beings too. Do these cars build each other or are they born? In one scene, we see a group of toy planes scatter along the sidewalk like a group of pidgeons. Will they one day grow to become full 747s?

In Cars 2, all of the world's major landmarks still exist, but they are all car friendly. How did these cars build such high rising and intricate structures, and would a civilization of cars have need for such things? Was there a Planet of the Apes rise and rebellion where millions of cars systematically killed their human drivers? 

Also, why is food like wasabe and lemons (well, you'll understand that when you see the movie) served at parties? This implies that cars need to eat, but we know that they also require gasoline or Allinol, a new green, clean biofuel created for this movie. And what's with the evil car scientist with the monacle? Can car eyesight really begin to fail? If you opened the door to a car, would it have organs like a Cylon Raider? Sadly, these are the kind of questions that race through my mind every time I watch one of these films. 

Colorful and gorgeous

Anyone who complains or speaks ill of the visuals in Cars 2 must have watched a different movie. As odd as I find the themes, this is the best lookin Pixar movie to date, which also means its one of the best looking CGI movies of all time. The film is fully animated, but there were times when the lighting and scenic detail was so good that it looked like these animated cars might be driving on real streets. And those were just the races. The movie is full of rich and colorful explosions and effects, especially in the opening spy sequence, which has Finn McMissile sneaking his way into and an offshore oil rig at night. In this scene the water so realistically waves and splashes that it's almost mesmerising. Say what you will about the plot, but Cars 2 certainly looks like a Grade A film. If Pixar wanted to create a realistic looking movie like Avatar, I'm certain they could pull it off better than Cameron.

Pixar sells out

Cars 2 is not a bad film. It looks better and flows better than almost any computer animated movie and it executes a spy theme using cars better than most human movies accomplish with, well, actual spies and secret agents. But this is a Pixar movie and, unfortunately for Pixar, its films are held to the envieably high standards it has set in the dozen or so features it has released since Toy Story. And compared to those movies, and even the original Cars, Cars 2 feels like it exists solely because some executives needed a sequel.

Almost all of Pixar's failms have risen above the crowd because the studio put creativity and artistry above all other needs or concerns. Even its Toy Story sequels weren't made until the studio had a good enough idea to advance the source material properly. Cars 2 is a good spy thriller, and great fun for little boys, but the passion Pixar has for its films feels dimmer here. Much like the Toy Story Short that opens the film, Cars 2 was not made because a creative at Pixar ran into his/her bosses office with a fantastic idea for a new Cars movie. The decision was made by the many billions of dollars Disney was making off of Cars toys and merchandise. Pixar hasn't jumped the shark, but, I'm saddened to say that, for the first time, the studio has sold out its brand.


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