CARS 2 (Grade: C)
By Jonathan Decker
REVIEW: The first Cars film is, I think, unfairly maligned by critics and some Pixar fans who consider it to be one of the studio's lesser efforts. While I wasn't very impressed by it initially, repeat viewings for my master's thesis warmed me to its earnest morality, nostalgia for small-town America, and charming characters. This average sequel scraps most of what made the first film so enjoyable in favor of a fish-out-of-watermistaken-identity spy story that, although not without enjoyable qualities for kids and adults, nevertheless ranks as the least impressive film in Disney-Pixar's canon.
To its credit, the animation is gorgeous, there's some great jokes, and the action sequences are creative. Michael Giacchino continues to be one of modern cinema's most gifted composers; his score here evokes classic Bond themes from the 60's and is instantly memorable. As a 007-esque spy car, Michael Caine's vocal performance oozes class and cool. Messages about everyone having individual talents and worth are inspiring, as is a theme of true friends standing by each other without shame.
Nevertheless, in attempting to have a clever espionage story the filmmakers sacrifice fun, character and charm in favor of long stretches of narrative that test the patience of children and their parents; in other words, it gets boring. It also simply doesn't have the poignancy or heart of its predecessor. Larry the Cable Guy's Mater transitions from amusing supporting character to central protagonist, a misstep that proves more irritating than inspired. Owen Wilson, while present, is missed in the lead role. The film also contains a strong endorsement of alternative fuels and a condemnation of “big oil” companies that, regardless of your politics, comes across as forced and ham-fisted. I don't object to alternative fuels per se, but such an unbalanced and political message feels out of place in a family film that ought to strive for universal appeal. All in all, Cars 2 isn't a bad film. It's simply a run-of-the-mill kid's movie, which given Pixar's stellar track record, represents a major fall from grace.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Cars 2 is rated G. There are a couple of jokes equating oil leaks to urination, etc. Vehicles fire bullets and missiles at one another, with several cars presumably “dying” in explosions.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Love (in this case between friends) is long-suffering, patient, kind, and endures all things.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.