It’s your own fault, John Lasseter. Because your studio’s first 11 films were home runs, every time your guys go to their computers the public expects another awesome at-bat. That would be unreasonable, of course, even if Pixar hadn’t established itself as the Yankees of CGI animation, whacking home runs with “Toy Story” (1995), “A Bug’s Life” (1998), “Toy Story 2” (1999), “Monsters, Inc.” (2001), “Finding Nemo” (2003), “The Incredibles” (2004), “Cars” (2006), “Ratatouille” (2007), “WALL-E” (2008), “Up” (2009), and “Toy Story 3” (2010).
But even Yankee batters don’t clear the fence every time. Besides, what’s wrong with a solid double?
Enough baseball. Let’s talk auto racing. In “Cars 2,” Piston Cup racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is goaded by an Italian formula racecar into competing in the World Grand Prix in Japan and Europe. At Sally’s suggestion, McQueen takes along his best friend Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who is about as cultured as a haystack and predictably provides the contrast, laughs, and embarrassments that drive the fish-out-of-water plot.
There’s both good and bad to be had in “Cars 2.” The backgrounds and CGI work are phenomenal, whether you watch in Blu-ray or 3D Blu-ray. The level of detail, the combination of realism and cartoon elements, and the visual elements (colors, edge delineation, 3-dimensionality, etc.) are nothing short of spectacular. Anyone who enjoyed the world of anthropomorphic cars that Pixar created in the first film will delight in new aspects to be found in the larger “car world” outside Radiator Springs.
“Cars 2” isn’t just a sequel–it’s also a clever parody of James Bond films, and why not? It’s hardly much of a leap to go from 007’s famed Aston Martin to a sports car British agent named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his beautiful auto-Bond female partner Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). But the plot is unnecessarily complicated, and young viewers might confess that they’re as clueless as Mater throughout much of the film. Worse, parents who try to explain it to them may also realize that they’re not exactly sure what’s going on at times.
Sponsoring the big race is a corporation that produces an alternate, organic fuel, but cars who are resentful of being “lemons” somehow are recruited by a German VW who’s bent on making sure that the lemons have a never-ending supply of parts and fuel. As near as I can tell, they’re trying to corner the market on oil, but how and how it relates to Allinol is just a little confusing. There are also Bond action elements, like bomb threats, crashes, and blasts from afar that destroy many of the cars in the race. If this were a Disney animated movie about critters instead of cars, it would be the equivalent of having Bambi’s playmates or other forest animals die. Sensitive children who embrace the cars-as-characters concept might find it a little unsettling that there’s so much Bond-style violence, but it is a clever way to take a sequel.
McQueen was the star of the first film, but it’s Mater who takes the spotlight this time, causing his friend embarrassment and getting mixed up in a spy game that ultimately makes him an unlikely hero. Eddie Izzard lends his voice to Miles Axelrod, the CEO of Allinol, while Thomas Kretschmann is Prof. Zundapp, an evil VW who wears a monocle. Plenty of familiar voices also turn up, like Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger as Mack the truck, John Turturro as Francesco Bernoulli, Bonnie Hunt as Sally Carrerra, sportscaster Brent Musberger as Brent Mustangburger, and race-car driver Jeff Gordon as Jeff Gorvette. There’s plenty of action, lots of humor, and so much visual “pop” that you can’t help but fall in love with the look of “Cars 2,” even if the plot leaves you spinning your wheels at times.
But it is the first Pixar sequel that isn’t equal to or better than the original, and I think that’s why a number of critics might be overreacting.
I’m not a fan of 3D, but some films–including just about anything from Disney-Pixar–really lend themselves to the format. “Cars 2” is probably one of the most immersive 3D movies I’ve reviewed. Backgrounds are jaw-dropping, and the animation is rendered so completely 3-dimensional that it’s easy to get pulled into Mater and McQueen’s world. Colors are gorgeous, black levels are rich and rewarding, and detail is rendered right down to the smallest speck on the screen. If you’ve got a 3D TV and are looking for a demo model, pop in “Cars 2.” The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is perfect, with no evidence of artifacting. You really have to see this one to believe it. It’s presented in 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
The featured audio is an engine-roaring English DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack that’s also available in Spanish, with additional options in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA ES, English DVS 2.0, English Dolby Digital 2.0, and Spanish Dolby Digital EX 5.1. Subtitle options are in English SDH or Spanish.
Like the video, the audio is perfect. Whether it’s flame-bursting explosions or cars pealing around corners, the sound is loud, perfectly mixed, and distributed realistically across the speakers so as to create a sensible sound field that really comes to life and makes us believe the cars as characters.
This 5-disc set has everything–3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy–and it’s the only way to get a portable copy of the film. The 2-disc Blu-ray combo only has the DVD, so Disney-Pixar found a clever way to push viewers in the direction of 3D.
Lasseter and co-director Brad Lewis offer an engaging commentary that runs the gamut from concepts to problems encountered and the solutions they came up with. These guys love what they do, and after you listen to them talk about the film you’ll probably leave a little of your own criticism of it in the dust.
To the average person “Air Mater” isn’t a big deal–just another installment in the Mater’s Tall Tales cartoon shorts series–but it’s the very first cartoon to come out of Pixar Canada, and the studio is quite proud of it. “Toy Story” fans will also be happy to see another cartoon short from that series also included, and as fun as “Air Mater” is, “Hawaiian Vacation” is the funnier of the two.
The other features are divided into travel segments. “The Pacific” zeroes in on the creation of the off-shore oil rigs and the other scenes set in the middle of the ocean, while the “London” section discusses those backgrounds and the Bond spy aspects. “Paris” does the same thing with those sequences, and also includes an art gallery. “Munich” has several deleted scenes, a “Mater-Hosen” clip, a German trailer, and more artwork. “Prague” is just a quick alternate opening and more art, while “Porta Costa” gives you features on the Italian section. The biggest section is “Tokyo,” with all sorts of featurettes, artwork, and Japanese trailer. And of course there’s a section on “Radiator Springs” and “Cars” origins, some of which you also get in an “Emeryville” section and behind-the-scenes promotion. Throw in “The Nuts & Bolts of Cars Land” and all totaled there’s about two hours of material here.
What’s more, the Pixar guys went back to something we haven’t seen for a while: Easter Eggs. So as you navigate each menu screen, be sure click on other things.
“Cars 2” is still a solid film, but one with flaws. We’re just not used to seeing that from Lasseter’s bunch. Fans are apt to forgive, though, once they enter this new auto world. It’s so eye-popping that “Cars 2” easily ranks as one of the best 3D entries this year.