Cars 2, is a wonderful ride into a truly animated world of creativity. Disney and Pixar unite once more for the sequel to the blockbuster from a few years back.
As is typical fare for animated features these days, Cars 2 is revved up with an all-star cast of voice actors. Larry The Cable Guy (Mater), Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Bonnie Hunt (Sally), John Ratzenburger (Mack), Cheech Marin (Ramone), Tony Shaloub (Luigi), Edie McClurg (Minny), Katherine Helmond (Lizzie) and Paul Dooley (Sarge) return to Radiator Springs.
For this course, John Turturro (Francesco Bernoulli), Eddie Izzard (Sir Miles Axelrod), Joe Mantegna (Grem), Bruce Campbell (Rod “Torque” Redline), Michael Caine (Finn McMissile), Vanessa Redgrave (The Queen/Mama Topolino), Emily Mortimer (Holly Shiftwell) and Jeff Gordon (Jeff Gorvette) join the pack. In the booth, calling the World Gran Prix action, Brent Musburger (Brent Mustangburger), and David Hobbs (David Hobbscap) join returning commentator Darrell Waltrip (Darrell Cartrip).
With all the names attached to Cars 2, you might assume to find a lagging storyline or perhaps a salve, to make up for any flaws within the script. This is not the case, not in the least bit. As mentioned, stars love attaching themselves to animated features of late, especially when the feature is associated with Disney and/or Pixar. For me, Cars 2, is much more than your run of the mill, over hyped, summer animated blockbuster. This film showcases some of the finest creative artists, doing what they do best, utilizing their knack for creating a remarkably unique portrait of artistic brilliance, which I’ll expand upon in just a few moments. But first an overview:
In Cars, Lightning McQueen was center stage. It was his film, and everything contained within, revolved around his story; around his character arc. In Cars 2, Lightning McQueen takes a supporting and rather secondary role. He’s used as a catalyst, helping set the position, for Mater’s story. Without Lightning McQueen, Mater would never arrive in Towkyo, he’d never get caught up in the spy game, and he’d never rise above his persona, proving that even the lemon, the outcast or fool can have their day; can save the day.
There are two overall themes in Cars 2, the outcast as hero/don’t judge a book by its cover, and the meaning of friendship. Each of course, revolve around Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater. And make no mistake about it, this is his film, and all the action in it, go toward its development.
Mater joins Lightning as a member of his pit crew. They go to Japan for the first leg of the newly formed World Grand Prix. The contrast to Radiator Springs is front and center. We see numerous fish out of water moments. We see Mater rushing all over the place, experiencing everything new, taking it all in, like a kid on his first visit to a toy or candy store. Mater’s innocence and lack of worldly experience, sets up many misunderstandings and miscommunications throughout the film, which lead to some extremely funny moments. A few of these are:
Mater Vs. Wasabi
Mater Vs. The Bidet
Mater Vs. The Rendezvous
Mater Vs. The Oil Spill
Mater Vs. The Zen Garden
Mater Vs. James Bond
So the story then progresses, as Lightning has a set back and blames Mater for his shortcoming. Mater, destitute, has just had his world shattered and has a revelation, that he is nothing but a jinx & a disaster waiting to happen, seeks to leave Japan, intent for a return to Radiator Springs. Miscommunication and Mistaken Identity rear its head once again, as Mater is thrust into the world of international espionage. Obvious funny moments continue as the fish out of water motif is ratcheted up a few notches. Although Mater has no idea why these “fancy” British spies believe he’s an American spy, he goes along because they asked for his help, and helping others is what Mater does, it’s in his nature, it’s who he is.
Mater gets slightly caught up in this Mater rebrand, until another low point occurs, Finn tells him that he’s so good at his job because everyone sees him as a fool, he plays the role perfectly. Well, we, along with Mater, fully know he’s not playing a role at all. He has now returned back to the destitution. The all is lost moment happens when he, the fool, must overcome certain peril, in order to help his best friend, to save his life, because that’s what best friends do.
Pretty much I’ve elaborated on what people can piece together for themselves through the trailers. I won’t go any deeper, plot-wise, as to not risk leaking or spoiling the film.
For the remainder of this review, I’d like to return to the creative brilliance on display in Cars 2. The naming of places and characters is outstanding, as they take well-known monikers for people, places, activities and things, and throw a car-like twist upon them. A few examples:
Big Ben is Big Bentley
Tokyo is Towkyo
Lieder Hosen is Mater Hosen
Urination is Leaking Oil
Cow tipping is Tractor tipping
Pigeons are little toy airplanes
Sumo Wrestling is Yugo wrestling
El Camino is Miguel Camino
These are just a few of the extraordinarily well-crafted and detailed examples within the film. For some additional examples, refer back to the cast list in the beginning of this review, where you’ll find numerous names converted into their car-world counterpart.
Cars 2, is creative beyond the name/idea twisting I’ve just described though. It has some very advanced ideas and metaphors scattered throughout the film. Some are obvious like the reference to urination above, but others are not as obvious, or pass by rather quickly on screen. Some examples are:
Alternative fuel Vs. Gasoline
This idea is taken straight out of current news. The debates rage on, in every aspect from independence from foreign oil, to environmental impact. The subtlety the writers infused this broad scoped topic into the film was superbly done.
Stereotypes are seen from beginning to end. From redneck, hillbilly, references to Japanese game shows. From arguing Italian men to the food pushing Italian Mamas. From the seedy, criminal element to the prim and proper Royal types to the rigid nature of the Royal guards in London.
The notion of outcasts is a major element of this film. Therefore I won’t thoroughly dissect the messages and portrayals in the film. But I will say that it was rather creative utilizing old clunkers and “lemons” from history to characterize this element.
Culture and Setting
As in the real world, ideas of culture can be seen, through the setting, in every section, every scene of Cars 2. From the dusty roads and clay-like dirt terrain of Radiator Springs to the big lights and electric neon of downtown Tokyo. From the circles and roundabouts, represented in the streets of Italy to the overcrowded traffic patterns of London. From the rickshaws and vending machines of Japan, to the rowdy nature seen in the English Pub.
The creativity and depth of Cars 2 makes it a well-spent afternoon for adults. Any child that enjoys cartoons will like this film, for all its animated glory.
However, there is one note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, in regards to suitability for children. If you allow your children to watch mild violence and/or life threatening scenarios, well there really isn’t anything in Cars 2 that should make you think twice. However, if you monitor what your children watch closely, than I should inform you there is a bit more violence in this film than I anticipated. The film opens up with a sequence, seemingly taken, directly from a James Bond film, with gunfire, explosions and burning oilrigs. Later in the film we see Rod “torque” Redline, not as a car, but in the aftermath, a compacted cube, of a meeting of the enemy.
There is also several moments, intended for humor, that deal with a cars undercarriage, the effect Francesco has on women, with the space between his wheels and his being exposed, with nothing to hide, and so forth. Life and death scenarios are also seen in numerous situations, cars exploding on the track, a bomb attached to a car, cars about to be crushed and so on.
There’s nothing really out of the typical fare that’s seen on television, but I felt it necessary to provide you, as a parent, with enough information to make your own decision.
Anyhow, as you can tell, I found this film very entertaining and something that most people would enjoy, from start to finish.