Directed by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Starring Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Eddie Izzard
Pixar makes great movies. All three of the Toy Story movies, Wall E, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, are masterpieces, accordingly the expectations for any Pixar movie are high. Does Cars 2 measure up to the best in Pixar’s oeuvre? I’m afraid it does not. Is it a beautifully animated, action packed, fun film? Yes it is.
The Movie/The Series:
In case you haven’t seen the first Cars movie, the films take place in an alternate reality populated with anthropomorphic cars, ships and aircraft. At least it’s easiest to think of it as an alternate reality. I get headaches and a bit creeped out when I start to think of this world as being some kind of post human version of our universe. So in this mechanical based world. Finn McMissile, a debonair vintage Aston Martin styled British spy voiced by Michael Caine is investigating the disappearance of a colleague Leland Turbo. His search for Turbo has brought him to the middle of the ocean where to his surprise he finds a forest of towering off shore drilling platforms over a secret oil field, and that Turbo has uncovered a nefarious plot. Unfortunately before Finn can rendezvous with Turbo the bad guys discover Leland and dispatch him in a uniquely automotive fashion. Despite Turbo’s demise Finn is able to determine that Turbo has managed to pass off critical information to an American agent before his capture.
Meanwhile back in the states Mater, again voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, is awaiting the return of his best friend Lightning McQueen to Radiator Springs. McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, has just won his fourth Piston Cup and he’s looking forward to spending some time relaxing and reconnecting with his friends. For this reason McQueen has turned down an opportunity to race in the first ever World Gran Prix organized by Miles Axelrod. Axelrod, played by Eddie Izzard, is a reformed big oil mogul who has recently sold his oil companies to devote all his wealth to a new organic fuel he has developed called Allinol. All of the cars in the World Gran Prix will use Allinol thus proving that it is a safe and effective alternative to gasoline. After some call in TV show goading by Francesco Bernoulli, voiced enthusiastically by John Turturro, an arrogant and spicy Italian open wheeled race car, McQueen changes his tune and decides he will compete in the World Gran Prix. Since his regular crew are all on vacation after the completion of the Piston Cup series his buddies from Radiator Springs including Mater will crew for him. So McQueen, Mater and friends head to Tokyo for the first of the three races in the World Gran Prix.
In Tokyo at a party kicking off the race series Mater manages to get mistaken by Finn as the American agent as well as thoroughly embarrassing McQueen. The next day Mater in a further mix up with Finn manages to cost McQueen the race. When Mater realizes the he has embarrassed his friend and cost him the race he decides to head home to Radiator Springs where he can’t hurt McQueen any further. Fate has other plans for Mater though and he gets drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict between Finn and the mysterious villains from the secret oil fields.
Of course being a G rated movie you know Mater and McQueen will eventually reconcile and that everything will come out okay in the end, that being said there are some rather violent scenes with minor characters meeting rather graphic demises. Add to that the multi-stranded plot line and I have to wonder at least a bit about the films appropriateness for its intended audience. Visually though the movie is a gold mine for any kind of car nut. The detail is astounding. From lug nuts to tire treads, and brake calipers to shock absorbers the amount of eye candy is nearly unbelievable. The entire landscape is mechanized with wheels and grills and other parts serving as architectural details and miniature airplanes subbing for pigeons. The whole concept of lemons being the bad guys had me giggling at every appearance of a Pacer, Gremlin, Yugo or NSU. For someone with a little less gasoline running through their veins, which is probably ninety eight percent of the audience, all of this detail will still add to the richness of the world but its no substitute for solid storytelling. Which is where the film stumbles a bit. The spy thriller plot line is pretty solid, the rivalry between McQueen and Francesco is always fun, but the falling out and reconciliation between McQueen and Mater seems forced, rote and predictable. A lot of the problem is the blandness of McQueen’s character, he’s the least interesting car in the movie.
The Blu Ray comes as a combo pack with both a Blu Ray and DVD disc, the Blu Ray is presented in 1080p with a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The DVD looks great but the Blu Ray is magnificent. The level of detail is simply amazing. You can see every little cut and abrasion on Mater’s worn and half dry rotted tires. You can not only count the sides on a nut but you can make out that it’s actually a safety nut. The metal-flake paint jobs on some of the cars, like McMissle look gorgeous. Without the extra resolution of you get with Blu Ray a lot of this detail is lost on the regular DVD. The colors all pop and the lighting effects are spot on. I never noticed any kind of aliasing, blooming, or any other kind of digital artifacts. This is a good example of a movie that really benefits from Blu Ray.
The audio is presented in 7.1 DTS-HD in English, Spanish and French. There are subtitles in English, French and Spanish as well. The fantastic score and foley work are mixed well with the dialog. I never noticed any distortion or other problems with the audio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The discs come in a standard blue tinted Blu Ray case with a cardboard slipcase. The artwork is catchy if a little busy. The Toy Story short Hawaiian Vacation that was shown in front of the film in the theatrical release is included as well as the Cars short Air Mater. There is an audio commentary with the director and co director, John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, that gives insight into the creative decisions made and some of the development history of the film. There are also included a number of previews.
For any gearhead both of the Cars movies are a metric ton of fun. Cars 2 with it’s international scope just ups the ante. True, neither stands up to the best titles in Pixar’s catalog, but they are still better than average movies, great movies if you winnow the field to down to just kid’s movies.
Overall (not an average) 8/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 10/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/1