Cars 2

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  What a load of BS that is.  First, who throws sticks and stones anymore?  From what I see on the news, most people are now using guns.  Second, I’ve been damaged deeply by a cross word, especially when that word comes from someone I care about and respect.  In this week’s movie, “Cars 2,” words between friends nearly lead to disaster.  Actually, the band of international criminals and a fiendish conspiracy actually do more damage, but its angry words which open the door to calamity.

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has returned to Radiator Springs after winning his fourth Piston Cup championship.  Looking forward to a relaxing summer, McQueen hopes for some quality time with Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) and the other friends he made there in his first visit, including Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy).  Mater has all kinds of fun things planned for McQueen but is saddened when McQueen tells him he hopes to have a night out with Sally alone.  That night, McQueen and Sally are at a nearby restaurant when Mater, pretending to be a waiter, intrudes.  After the pair sends him off to get their drinks, Mater sees Italian F1 race car Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro) on a TV talk show, bragging about how he could soundly beat McQueen in the upcoming World Grand Prix being put on by alternative fuels inventor Miles Axelrod (voiced by Eddie Izzard).  Mater, angered by Bernoulli’s insults toward his best friend, calls the show and quickly has his words turned around by the quick Italian race car.  Noticing the ruckus, McQueen gets on the phone, turns the tables on Bernoulli, and accepts Axelrod’s invitation to be in the race.  All the cars in the first World Grand Prix will run on Axelrod’s new alternative fuel Allinol.  Meanwhile, British super secret agent Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and his assistant Holly Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer) are investigating a group of criminals, mostly made up of cars considered lemons, that are somehow connected to the World Grand Prix.  The first race is in Japan and McQueen has brought several Radiator Springs friends along as his pit crew, including Mater.  Mater has information about the criminals attached to his undercarriage by an American spy car just before the spy is cornered by a couple of bad guys and captured.  Thinking Mater is the American contact, Shiftwell approaches Mater but he thinks she wants a date.  During the race, Shiftwell is able to speak to Mater through his headset, but his responses cause McQueen to make a mistake and lose the race to Bernoulli.  Frustrated, McQueen tells Mater he doesn’t need his help, leading Mater to head for home.  Mater is intercepted at the airport by McMissile and soon is up to his wheel wells in international espionage that could spell big danger for his best friend, McQueen.

Both “Cars” and “Cars 2” are films about self discovery along with acceptance of the weirdness of others.  Last time, it was about Lightning McQueen learning about himself.  This time, McQueen has more to learn, but the focus of the story is Mater.  While the “mistaken identity” plot device is as old as the dinosaurs, the target audience for this Pixar/Disney release will probably find it to be exciting and fraught with possibilities in their own lives.  After all, children are much more open to the possibilities in life than adults, no matter how remote.

Many of the “real critics” have panned the movie as being too focused on Mater and not funny enough.  “Cars 2” is the lowest rated Pixar release on the two review aggregator websites, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, in the company’s history.  The previously lowest rated Pixar movie was “Cars.”  I’ve never claimed to be a movie critic, just a guy who enjoys going to movies that has been given the opportunity to share his point of view on a website.  Having said that let me tell you why the “Cars 2” bashers are mostly wrong.

First, while McQueen could be considered the star of the film, Mater is the movie’s heart.  He may be simple and unsophisticated, but Mater knows his way around an engine and proves to be much smarter in that regard than anyone else when it counts.  Second, while there aren’t that many outright jokes in the movie, there are several humorous bits, asides and montages scattered through the film.  It may not be a continuous laugh riot, but it is funny in places.  The filmmakers have traded some humor for more action and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Seeing Mater with jet engines strapped to his truck bed blasting through the streets of London supplies both humor and action simultaneously.  Visually, the movie has all the usual Pixar quality and inside jokes that fly past in the blink of an eye.  If you look closely, and are a Pixar junkie, you’ll see the names of various people who made the film scattered throughout.  There are also references to other Pixar films, including “Toy Story” and “Ratatouille.”

There are points where the details of the story bring the film’s momentum to a near halt.  Trying to figure out the bad guys plan seems to be given too much attention at times.  Also, Lightning McQueen is largely absent from the film’s center section, focusing on Mater and several of the new characters.  Perhaps some scenes of McQueen, distracted by his guilt over the way he spoke to Mater, should have been included during this section.

These complaints aside, the true test of the movie is whether a mob of children, squirming and whining during the previews, would quiet down and pay attention during the film.  In the nearly full theatre I was in the movie passed with flying colors.  While a few kids got restless and noisy during the feature, the overwhelming majority of the under-10 audience was quiet and attentive.  As a non-parent, I was grateful.

“Cars 2” is rated G.

I’m not sure why most critics seem to dislike the two “Cars” films.  They are light-hearted romps through a world of talking cars that have lessons to teach all of us.  There’s even a little environmental tinge to the new film.  Maybe several of the movie critics drove the lemons that were the villains of this feature.

“Cars 2” gets four guitars out of five.

Robots in disguise, older than average college freshmen and young women on a romantic adventure fill movie screens this week.  Vote on the film you’d like reviewed next.

Transformers:  Dark of the Moon—The Autobots return to action when a mysterious event from Earth's past erupts into the present day, threatening to destroy humanity.

Larry Crowne—Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts star in the story of a downsized big-box store employee who enrolls in his local college to start over.

Monte Carlo—Three young women are whisked away on an international adventure when one of them is mistaken for a British socialite.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choosing currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

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