In 1995, Pixar films (now owned by Disney) started an amazing feature-film run with Toy Story, beginning a streak of 11 movies that were all good to great.
With Cars 2, Pixar's 12th effort, that run comes to a screeching, tire-shredding halt. This is not only the worst (and only bad) Pixar feature film to date, but one of the year's worst movies, period.
This thing is bad out of the gate. The original Cars—starring the voices of Owen Wilson as spiffy racecar Lightning McQueen, and Larry the Cable Guy as Mater the irritating tow truck—was the weakest Pixar film up until the release of the sequel. Though the initial Cars had a middle that dragged a bit and the weakest emotional punch of any Pixar film, I would still qualify it as a good time.
Cars 2 is a muddled merchandising mess tooling around on bald tires. Directors John Lasseter (who made the first two Toy Story films) and Brad Lewis have slopped together too many ideas for one movie, and none of those ideas is entertaining.
The haphazard story goes something like this: Lightning McQueen gets some sort of challenge from Italian racecar Francesco (John Turturro) and goes on a world trek to race in a Grand Prix. Of course, he brings along Mater, because the tow-truck toy is projected to be the most popular one this year, with new versions of Mater currently being readied for this holiday season. Get ready to pony up, parents!
Thrown into the mix is an incomprehensible spy-movie arc that involves Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer as British-secret-agent cars. For reasons I won't bother to explain, because I really can't, Mater gets involved in the intrigue, and basically becomes the star of the movie.
Mater was the primary reason why I almost didn't like the original Cars. The sound of Larry the Cable Guy's voice makes me want to chuck a small computer desk or end table at the screen. (I wouldn't want to chuck a dining-room or kitchen table, for they are too big for me to heft by myself.) Here, Larry the Cable Guy is the primary force, and that's never a good thing. Other voices, like those of Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell and Joe Mantegna, drift through—but most of the 112-minute running time is dedicated to Larry's infuriating vocals.
Does the movie look good? Sure. Pixar makes a good-looking movie, no question. Is it a movie with any redeeming value? Absolutely not. It's a bunch of good-looking yet confusing sequences strewn together and called a movie.
This is one of those movies for kids during which children will lose interest about 27 minutes in. I heard kids protesting and saw them walking up and down the aisles, ready to get the hell out of the theater once the credits rolled. I even saw one kid set a theater seat on fire and start a rousing in-theater protest of movies, such as this one, that insult children's intelligence. No, wait ... I daydreamed that, because I was bored.
I have no doubt that Pixar will get back on track with future films. (Next year's Brave, which has a preview attached to Cars 2, looks promising.) The introductory short is a Toy Story vignette starring Woody and the gang. It's not altogether great, but it's better than anything in the road-kill that follows.