Cars 2: Sequel to 2006 Cars

“Cars 2,” the sequel to Pixar’s 2006 film, is a disappointing film, a structurally messy animation that’s too calculated by commercial considerations, with too many cooks in the mix, driven by an (unsuccessful) effort to correct some of the problems of the original “Cars.”

Of the dozen or so animated features by Pixar, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary, “Cars” is considered to be one of its artistically underwhelming projects.  According to Rotten Tomatoes, one out of four reviews of “Cars” was negative, though commercially, the film fulfilled expectations and grossed domestically $244.7 million.  This figure is not outstanding by the standards of Pixar’s other films (such as “Finding Nimo”), but it’s also nothing to feel embarrassed about.

I suspects that “Cars 2” will further divide reviewers and will get even lesser grades than the first film did.  I have to admit that I was not overly enthusiastic when I saw “Cars,” mostly because of the film’s narrative premise and plot, though the technical execution was reliably fine and sleek.

The script for “Cars 2” is credited to Ben Queen, but there’s no doubt that honcho John Lasseter, co-director Brad Lewis and Dan Fogelman have made major contributions to the structure and shape of the text. End result in an impersonal, overcrowded, but not particularly pleasurable, picture.

In the new film, Owen Wilson plays star racecar Lightning McQueen, who, joined by the extraordinary tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) embarks on a new set of adventures all over the world.

The duo, to sum up the oversimplistic plot in one sentence, take their friendship to new, far remote places, when they decide to leave the small and dormant Radiator Springs and instead head overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix, which will choose the world’s fastest car.

Like most journey movies, the road to the championship in “Cars 2” is filled with potholes, detours, and surprises. In one major subplot, Mater gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own, a risky (and funny, of course) international espionage.

As a result, Mater’s loyalties get conflicted.  He finds himself torn between assisting Lightning McQueen in the high-profile race and towing the line in a top-secret mission, which is orchestrated by master British spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and the female spy-in-training Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).

While watching “Cars 2,” I got the impression that the plot was done by a committee of minds, headed by the usually brilliant John Lasseter, with each member throwing ideas of how to improve the broken, mechanical, uninvolving elements of the original “Cars.”  However, not really trusting their story, the filmmakers have made a fast-moving animation that represents a non-stop sensorial experience and relies on too many details and subplots that are not always interesting to watch, or to listen to.

Globetrotting through Japan, Italy, France and other locations, the adventure takes our heroes to big capitals and to less famous cities, each of which contributes a panel, if not real mystery, to the entangled, but not very involving, spy intrigue.

To put it another way, “Cars 2” lacks the vitality of Pixar’s usually smooth storytelling, the energy of their famously shapely narratives. This movie is both too episodic and fragmented and also too aggressively rambunctious.

Unlike Pixar’s ultra-successful and enjoyable “Toys” franchise, “Cars 2” was conceived as a stand-alone feature, which could be understood and appreciated by children and adult viewers without having seen the original film.

Alongside the colorful global sites, and showing such landmarks as Paris’ the Eiffel Tower and Arch de Triumph, and London’s the Big Ben, the movie boasts a great line of cars, including an updated Bond-style Aston Martin and the much more modest East German Trabant.

Your eyes are constantly busy with a parade of diverse cars and the voices behind them.   Special kudos go to the endlessly versatile John Turturro as the smug Italian F1 Speedster

The talented ensemble that provides the voices consists of good actors, both vet and young, such as Vanessa Redgrave and real-life husband Franco Nero, Jason Isaacs, Jennifer Lewis, Katherine Helmond, Paul Dooley, and Cheech Marin.

Lasseter gets much more of the 3D enhanced animation, which is often quite dazzling, than most movies, both live action and animation, get out of the overused but underwhelming 3D technology.

“Cars 2” is not really a bad picture, just one that’s not as impressive and captivating as Pixar’s most efforts of the past two decades.  It’s all relative.  Who knows, perhaps we have been spoiled by such a dazzling track record that includes the three “Toys” movies, “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” “Wall-E,” and “Up.”