My review is spoiler free, so feel comfortable reading it.
I have to admit up front, I really didn’t have high hopes for Cars 2 going in. I just didn’t think that it was a film that would speak to me. When details emerged that it would feature a race around the world and spy elements, I was a bit more excited, but I wondered to myself if the film would have any heart? That was the aspect that I liked best about the original Cars. I can honestly say that Cars 2 delivers plenty of action, some laughs and a bit of heart too, but did the film speak to me? Unfortunately, no…
Some critics/fans have said that it’s OK if Cars 2 isn’t an artistic endeavor like WALL-E, Up or Ratatouille. Others will point out that it’s a big summer movie designed to deliver non-stop action, lots of explosions and laughs. Those are fair points and I try and review all films based on their own individual merits and with the following criteria. Was I entertained? Did the film surprise me? Did I laugh? (if it’s comedy). Did the film move me in some way? Cars 2 is designed to be thrilling, funny and ultimately have a strong message around friendship. I think it succeeds in a few of those areas.
First off, the animation, music and voice acting are spectacular. Michael Giacchino’s score is a lot of fun. The production design (Harley Jessup), lighting (Sharon Calahan) and camera work (Jeremy Lasky) are gorgeous. Make no mistake, this film looks staggeringly beautiful. I really enjoyed the two new characters, Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell. They were both a breath of fresh air. While most of the radiator springs crew aren’t featured too much here, I did think that the homage to Doc Hudson was fitting and well done.
Some of the action set pieces are amazing and very inventive. The ultimate message around friendship and being yourself worked pretty well. I also loved the look of the end credits sequence. I won’t spoil anything for you, but there’s plenty of hidden gags and fun things to discover during the sequence (and throughout the whole film).
On the flip side, the story just didn’t grab me. I feel Mater works better as a secondary character and here he’s thrust into the spotlight as the protagonist and it’s really his character that is required to keep the plot moving. I also didn’t get a sense of real danger and never worried about the safety of our main characters and the resolution of the plot. Some of the jokes worked, while others fell pretty flat. I understand that I’m not the target audience, but this isn’t a Pixar film that works that well on multiple levels for kids and adults. Ultimately, I felt that the film is an extended Mater Tall Tales and that was one of my biggest fears realized. It’s just hard to sustain that pace and tone for nearly two hours.
In conclusion, although I think the results are a mixed bag, I do recommend that you go see Cars 2. There’s plenty of good things here, I just don’t expect the film to be everyone’s cup of tea. In addition, the teaser for Brave and the Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation short alone are worth the price of admission.