The original Cars is often regarded to be the least impressive of all the Pixar Animation Studio feature films, even though it’s still a lot of fun and like most Pixar films combines a good dose of pathos within the family friendly laughs. It just doesn’t have the same high level of characterisation, tight writing and heartfelt charm as the others, in particular the astonishing previous three feature films WALL·E, Up and Toy Story 3. So it does seem like an odd choice for Pixar to now return with a Cars sequel, although the massive shift in tone and focus make it feel more like a spin-off. The protagonist of the original film Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is now only a supporting character to Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) the rusty pick-up truck who is now upgraded from sidekick to lead character. While McQueen competes in races around the world, a case of mistaken identity sees Mater unwillingly becoming an international spy, teamed up with new characters Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
Overall Cars 2 has little to do with the original film and is instead a light-hearted spy thriller in the vein of James Bond films. Big action set pieces are mixed in with what feels like a never-ending series of visual and spoken puns about the film being set in a world populated by cars. The idea that Mater is a country-bumpkin car caught up in the adrenalin-charged and hi-tech world of espionage is also substantially milked for laughs. While he was a fun secondary character in the original film, as the lead character in Cars 2 he quickly wears out his welcome.
There are some nice swipes at the corrupt and ruthless behaviour of people who profiteer from dependence on petrol consumption, over more sustainable and efficient alternatives, but Cars 2 doesn’t have much more substance than that. The storyline is convoluted, the action is unengaging and the jokes in the film never succeed in provoking much more than the occasional smirk and roll of the eyes. The results are resoundingly mild. Cars 2 is not only the weakest Pixar film to date, but it’s the first one that can be sadly dismissed as not particularly worth seeing.