Film review – Cars 2 (2011)

Cars 2: Grem (voice by Joe Mantegna), Acer (voice by Peter Jacobson), Siddeley (voice by Jason Isaacs), Lightning McQueen (voice by Owen Wilson), Mater (voice by Larry the Cable Guy), Finn McMissile (voice by Michael Caine)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).

Cars 2: Finn McMissile (voice by Michael Caine)
Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine)

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.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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  1. You are the ONLY person who has given Cars 2 a Bad review…..PIXAR has not had a BAD movie… You are just a Bad Reviewer…..

  2. Goodness me Jeremy. The other reviews have barely even started coming in yet. Besides, I gave it an average review, not a bad one. I was disappointed by the film and have explained why.

    Don’t hurl insults and throw a temper tantrum over a film you haven’t even seen yet. In fact, don’t hurl insults and throw a temper tantrum over a film full stop.

  3. I thought your review was quite fair in all honesty, and confirms what I’ve suspected all along. Sadly, this will be the first Pixar film I won’t be seeing at the cinema.

  4. This is a good review of Cars 2 and i dont think thomas is a bad reviewer….many Pixar fanboys will be angry but the fact is Cars is just a normal movie, unlike the other Pixar films which are role models for other movies….
    Im a big fan of Pixar, but the only movie that i didn like by them was Cars..and seeing the trailers of Cars 2 i didn have much hope in that too….
    Cars 2 may not end up as a bad movie,but it wont stand up with the other Pixar movies….

  5. Your “money quote” is that Cars 2 is “Pixar’s weakest film to date”. That’s the same as saying the White Album is the Beatle’s worst album to date.

    Besides the first Cars, I can’t find a Pixar film at that hasn’t scored at least a 90% rating….which is the equivelant of a 4.5 star rating. The first Cars scored a 74%, the equivelant of 3.5 stars. How convenient that you chose to give Cars 2 a 2.5-star rating…just low enough to qualify it as a splat. You’re famous!

  6. Don’t take star ratings or Rotten Tomatoes rating too seriously Nick. They are just guides and pretty arbitrary ones at that. In fact, I’ve been considering dropping star ratings from my reviews all together since people get way too focused on them rather than taking into account what I’m actually saying.

    And please don’t look for conspiracies about why I reviewed this film the way I did. I have no ulterior motives and simply called it as I saw it. I gave it 2½ stars because I liked it more than films that I’d given 2 stars to, but less than films I’d given 3 stars to. It’s really that straightforward. Suggesting otherwise doesn’t offend me (although maybe it should) because it is such a ridiculous notion.

    Finally, for what it’s worth, I’ve loved every single other Pixar film and rated nearly all of them 4 or 4½. But for me this one fell way short of the rest. I was hoping to love it, but I didn’t.

  7. I actually think that this is a reasonable review, keep in mind that the reviewer knows what he is looking for going into a film,and if it isn’t there, it doesn’t get the credit, fair enough. I am a Pixar fan from when they only made short films, and i can tell you this. They have set the bar for themselves VERY high. if they have a bad film, so be it, then next will probably be awesome, and so forth. It also should be noted that from early on, this film was known to have story problems, which led to Lasseter being pulled in to co-direct. It may very well be that it could have been a MUCH worse film, but was salvaged more then even Pixar imagined.

  8. Love the honesty, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to say that Pixar can make a movie not worth seeing (especially with their track record) but it can happen, and looks like it just did.

  9. I came to much of the same conclusions with just seeing the trailers? Was also confused why Mater now had the lead. I will probably still take my kid to it, but your review said exactly what I was thinking. I hope the spy thingy plays out better than what I have seen? Seems like they were grasping at ideas.
    Thx for the review

  10. Thomas,

    I was never in the camp of people who thought lesser of the first Cars. I found the characterization, writing and charm of Cars to be at least the equal to all the Pixar films. And I was in amazement that Pixar so successfully managed to create a world of believable, sympathetic, life-like characters who were made of metal, had no arms or legs and rode around on 4 wheels. It’s stunning really. So maybe I’m guilty of assuming I’ll like the Cars sequel more than most.

    I really don’t care at all what you or anybody wants to rate a movie, but you HAVE to know that giving a Pixar film a tomato-splat-worthy rating is gonna get you noticed. You won’t be the only one, but you are right now. I’m not trying to demean your review. I believe you truly have problems with the film. I’ll admit I’m having a very hard time believing that a new Pixar film is “convoluted”, “un-engaging” and unfunny, but I can’t wait to judge for myself this weekend.

  11. Glad you liked Cars so much Nick. I watched it again recently and I really enjoy it too.

    My main motivation for posting this review when I did was I wanted to upload a review on that day and Cars 2 was the one that I had ready to go. What was I supposed to do instead? Lie about how I felt and change my rating? Or wait a week and post it (and probably then be accused of deliberately going against the pack to attract attention)?

    So again, there’s no strategy or cunning plan to why I reviewed the film how I did and when I did.

  12. It surprises me that this review has attracted such feedback.
    I didn’t realise the Cars franchise had such a following. Surely there are more worthy titles for the viewers to defend?

  13. The Cars franchise is far and away Pixar’s biggest money-maker when you factor in merchandise, so it’s actually quite easy to see why they would revisit this one, Thomas.

    I have yet to see the film, but I remember seeing the previews for the original and thinking to myself that Pixar had finally jumped the shark. 10 minutes into watching it, and I realized how wrong I was.

    I’ll reserve judgement on your review until I see the film, but it always makes me raise an eyebrow when I see a bunch of sparkling reviews and only a single one like the one you’ve written. It’s early in the review cycle though, so there is a good chance that you won’t stand alone for long.

  14. I agree with Thomas. I just left the screening for Cars 2. I loved the original, but making Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) the star of the film was just a bad idea. I love LTCG, but he’s best in small doses, not carrying a film.

    Pixar dropped the ball. Will kids like it? Absolutely, but Pixar is the epitome of a 4 quadrant film and I can tell you, it’s not happening here.

    Get ‘er done!!!

  15. actually, The writers of Toy Story 3 where on board. You also forgot to mention that Mater thinks everyone thinks hes an idiot. HENCE EMOTIONAL factor. the trailer diffently got me teary eyed with that scene….I read an LA times review and I trust them more than you…I wouldnt give it 2 1/2 stars. People who give PIXAR films that low of score don’t get it. I own every single PIXAR films and this one will be good…..there track record will not be broken…..JOHN LASSTER directed this one and CARS 1 was amazing….You also gave Transformers Revenge of the Fallen a one star and that deserves no stars You gave Avatar 4 stars and that movie is terrible as well. Itg would be nice to read your reviews without biased opinions.

  16. Jeremy, what is wrong with you? This is one of the most deranged comments I’ve read here in a long time. You are ranting and getting self-righteous about a film you haven’t even seen yet. Also, not only are you quibbling over star ratings given to other films, as if that is some kind of evidence to my worth as a critic, but you’ve listed the incorrect ratings! Even better, one of the films you listed was one that I didn’t even review! Did you even mean to leave this comment here or was it meant for somebody else?

    Finally, I don’t think you actually know what biased means, but are just using it as a random insult because you’ve seen it used elsewhere. And don’t even get me started on your spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    Unless you dramatically lift your game I won’t be approving any further comments from you. For your own sake as you’re now embarrassing yourself.

  17. I do hope Cars 2 will end up being better than what some of the reviews are saying. I always respect opinions and I respect yours. But I think you may be trying to look too much at the weakest points of the movie and expose them too greatly rather than focusing on what makes the movie good. I think critics will look at Cars 2 and instantly think Cars, and how it wasn’t as great as the other Pixar movies, which is entirely true. But nonetheless, I still believe that Pixar would not make a movie that would end up as a bad Dreamworks film.

  18. Agreed that Jeremy’s comment/attack comes off as a bit unwarranted.

    Aside from that, I found your review while technically a ‘rotten’ on R, to be quite fair. The first time I saw the trailer I knew that this was going to be geared towards kids and not any other demographics. For a good animated film this year that succeeded in being geared towards kids and adults alike, see Kung Fu Panda 2. Also while Mater was fine as a sidekick role, I do agree that it seems he will wear out his welcome as the lead.

    That said I’ll still be watching given I have a voucher but I hope it exceeds my somewhat average expectations.

  19. @Connor: You may have a point about me overly focusing on the negative aspects, but I suppose those were the points I felt most worth discussing. I probably should have mentioned that I was really impressed by the background art. The cityscapes that appear throughout Cars 2 are rendered beautifully.

    @Kris: Thanks for making that point about the way the review appears on Rotten Tomatoes. It is a pity that they reduce film reviews to either fresh or rotten, as that doesn’t properly represent reviews like this one, which is really an average review rather than a bad one.

  20. It irritates me that a company like Pixar, and in particular the Cars franchise, takes a “swipe” at dependency on petroleum. Pixar owes nearly all its fortune to petroleum. From what other substance is all the plastic made for their endless amounts of toys? From what energy source are their computers powered? How are their products shipped worldwide? Hint: petroleum. They profit from creating tons of landfill-clogging and instantly-outdated toys for children (which is also ironic, given the anti-consumerism slant of WALL-E). But these are the limousine liberals for you, just like Obama – burning millions of gallons of high-carbon, leaded jet fuel to fly around the country telling people they should turn off their light bulbs to save the planet. And sadly Thomas Caldwell fell for it. Praising the fat & decadent Pixar for preaching sacrifice and self-deprivation.

  21. @Thomas: I just discovered this site and will be investigating it in the near future for other reviews. I really enjoyed your review, and I’m tempted to see the movie now more than ever just to compare notes. I personally found the cars to be too clunky and the eyes to be too thrown-on to be enjoyable in the first film, but I also find spy capers to be interesting in the same way that the escape-from-jail feel of Toy Story 3 attracted me. This might end up being a battle between withstanding Larry the Cable Guy’s droning voice and enjoying Michael Caine being a super spy in a role that he would likely not be able to fulfill in a live-action film. Thanks again for both the review and your lively responses to other readers.

  22. The thing about Rotten Tomatoes is that when people see a splat, they automatically assume that it”s an extremely negative review. While a quick average score and glossing over of the splats to tomato ratio does give a general idea of how the movie’s faring critically, it’s not in-depth. Neither the icons or the numbers go into detail of a film’s redeeming and less than stellar qualities, do they? Hell, the reviews on RT are mostly English and written by Westerners, so it’s not even a good glimpse at how a film is doing internationally.

    Unfortunately most people hate being critical thinkers and instead just take the face value of a green splat and a number between 1-100, without even trying to evaluate the content of the review, or hell, even the movie. My condolences to Caldwell for that unfortunate run-in with one of humanity’s most vexing flaws.

    TLDR It’s pathetic that people get so riled up over a little icon on a review and can’t deal with the very existence of a contrary opinion.

  23. @Patrick: I see what you’ve done there, but I haven’t fallen for anything. I think you’ve allowed your political persuasions to dramatically skew your response to this issue beyond the parameters of how it’s represented in the film. I’ve heard arguments similar to yours before about the supposed hypocrisy of people who don’t practice what they preach when it comes to sustainable living. I’ve always found that such arguments cherry pick pieces of frequently unverified information in order to deflect attention from the main issue. But I did like your expression ‘limousine liberals’. I hadn’t heard that one before and I got a good chuckle out of it. Also, even though I don’t agree with you, it’s nice to hear from somebody riled up about a real issue, rather than a star rating for a film.

    @Slogra and @Lia (and many of those before you): Thanks for the kind words. The level of discussion surrounding how I’ve reviewed this film has actually been mostly pretty good I’m somewhat relieved to say. I have also been keeping an eye on the Rotten Tomatoes comments (not something I always do by the way) and have noticed that increasingly users are jumping in to chastise other users for making stupid, offensive and unreasonable statements. We’ve got a long way to go yet, but could we be heading for a new era of intelligent and civilised online film conversation? Maybe? One day?

  24. I love the ‘Pixies’ who think a negative review of a Pixar movie is a litmus test that proves a reviewer is incompetent or evil. Cars got mediocre-to-pretty good reviews, and ended up with a 74% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Cars 2 is now an absymal 39% positive after a total of 47 reviews, and looking like it might get Pixar’s first ‘Rotten’ rating. Even on the more generous Metacritic site, Cars is Pixars worse reviewed film, and Cars 2 is trending worse. I wonder if Jeremy is busy sending cranky emails to every one of those reviewers?

    Thomas, I think your Cars 2 review was even-handed and generous. The film’s clearly aimed at little boys, and I’m sure it’ll please them. I’ll be saving my money. Oh, and to answer to your question about why this Pixar movie got a sequel? Merchandising, merchandising, merchandising.

  25. I haven’t seen the movie yet – had to get that out there. But from the previews I have read, the Cars 2 books I have read with my son, combined with everything I have heard, I will side with Thomas on this one.

    Personally i thought Cars was on par with all the rest of the Pixar greats so I have no axe to grind. It also had some meat to the story, and watching the DVD bonus features helped me understand the story on a deeper level.

    Cars 2 looks like the script was just A RIP OFF of old Bond movies. While it is difficult to come up with original content, the budget these guys have leave them with no excuses. Mater as the protagonist? Thats a switcheroo many will not be pleased with.

    Also the reported level of violence and shooting – what gives? My son is 3 and enjoyed Cars, but I will hesitate to take him to see this show. Why would a 3 year old need to see so much shooting? This is something that should have been included in your review.

    I think the Pixar employees going ballistic on you need to examine themselves and the movie further. Pixar is known for more than ‘eye-candy’, unfortunately it appears that is all they offer with this flick (except for billions in available merchandise).

    Sorry, forgot to add – wasn’t that wonderful of Pixar to offer a heavy-handed environmental message to please the global warming liberals? That balances nicely with the shooting and violence that is sure to set the hearts of the neocons a-flutter. Too bad they forgot to focus on their primary audience.

  26. Just saw it and it is the biggest piece of rubbish have seen in a long time, A LONG TIME! My son who was a huge fan of the first and couldnt wait for the second has just spent the past part of three hours asking why I took him to see a film that was really bad. I wish I could get my money back.

  27. I just saw it and totally agree with your review. I have a three year old and Pixar movies are in heavy rotation at my house. Each time I watch one again I see nuance that makes me smile or appreciate Pixar’s dedication to it’s craft. Cars 2 is the first Pixar film I really did not enjoy to the point where I was wishing it to end so we could get the hell out of there!

  28. So I stumbled onto this website today and just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your reviews and the comment sections. Its refreshing to find a place with actual DISCUSSION instead of childish ranting and raving. Your reviews seem to be thoughtful and they are well written. So cheers to you. Bookmarked!

  29. I posted a couple times earlier on this post defending the first Cars and questioning if Cars 2 deserves a mediocre-to-poor rating. I finally saw Cars 2 yesterday.

    More than any Pixar film in the past, Cars 2….in my opinion….is maybe most enjoy-it-in-the-moment film of them all. It hardly lets it foot off the gas pedal from start to finish and I personally found the film very entertaining and somewhat refreshing. I’ve liked the very strong emotional waves that past Pixar films made me ride, but liked that Cars 2 was more about chases and racing and action.

    It was very clear to me, watching the film, that Lasseter wanted Cars 2 to have a vastly different feel than the original Cars. It’s likely how he justified making a sequel, which he’s long-promised he’d only do if felt a sequel’s idea was unique enough to make. He wasn’t gonna make another deliberately-paced, laid back film in Radiator Springs. I respect that he threw the characters overseas in an action/spy film.

    I don’t know exactly what about the story you found “convoluted”. In the boundaries of the film, it all made sense to me. It would be tricky to create a believable scenario for a villain in a Cars world, and I think the Pixar people did a good job with it. Perhaps the back-and-forth editing of the races and the spy story could have been done differently…and perhaps even better…but I’d have to see it numerous times to decide if that would be the case. But having seen all Pixar films numerous times, I’ve ALWAYS found that the sequencing of events is about 99% perfect. They go over the storyboards so many times, if there’s any flaws in the unfolding of their stories, they’re likely debatable flaws.

    You say the action is “unengaging”. Personally, I was really into the chases and race and the characters. It was a bit like being on an amusement park ride. Maybe you mean it in a sense that you weren’t getting into the characters’ predicaments or didn’t feel their ups and downs of their encounters. That’s maybe fair. The film doesn’t let up, and because of that, maybe the emotional connection to the characters and story is more difficult or impossible to fully latch on to.

    Overall I agree that film didn’t have a ton of big laughs, but is that a requirement? My 2 kids laughed out loud, as did I, in a few of Mater’s early scenes. It’s VERY clear to me that whether someone likes Mater or not is VERY dependent on whether someone likes the film. It’s a big gamble by Lasseter to have the film revolve around a character voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, who seems to be an almost political lightning rod for many. Somehow he’s associated with Red State Republicans and I’m convinced that many movie fans who are politically left are annoyed by the guy, and thus the character. I find Mater funny, honest and endearing. I have no problem with Mater, and actually liked him getting a lot of the spotlight. He added great balance to the intellectual world of McMissile, Shiftwell, Axelrod, Professor Z, etc. If not always very funny, there were many comical moments and the usual creative visual “jokes” that Pixar artists are so great at.

    I might agree with you that Cars 2 is Pixar’s “weakest film to date”, if only because I don’t think it will have the classic re-watch-ability that I think all Pixar films have. I will see it again for sure, and will likely get the DVD, but don’t imagine myself reaching for it on a rainy night at home like I’ve done with WALL-E or Up or Pinnochio or Dumbo. Cars 2 isn’t a layered film full of emotional depth that rewards repeating viewings….or at least I don’t think it is. It’s not a 5-star film, and maybe not even a 4-star film (if I were a critic, I’d bump it from a 3.5 to at least a 4 for all the visual effort and creativity that went into the backgrounds and design…the Pope and a Popemobile, fuzzy casino dice, the visually stunning Monaco-inspired city, the updated take on cow tipping, the Big Ben sequence….etc.). But to me, it’s very solid 3.5 star film. But again, there’s the Mater factor, which I truly believe is why at least half of the “tomato splat critics” lowered their rating a notch or two.

    Someone named Roger E. says in Comments that “Cars 2 looks like the script was just A RIP OFF of old Bond movies.” Huh? If only James Bond was always as clever and creative as the concoctions dreamed up in Cars 2. I hope future James Bond writers and directors took notes.

  30. @harman: Thank you for that very generous feedback. I do try to encourage civil discourse here by the way I moderate and respond to comments so I’m thrilled that seems to be having an effect. Thanks again.

    @nick: It’s wonderful that you were able to enjoy Cars 2 so much and thank you for taking the time to articulate why in such detail. I really don’t like not being able to engage with a film so it heartens me to hear from somebody who does.

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