Film Review: Cars 2

I have to say that I was surprised when Pixar greenlit a sequel to Cars. Why would the studio set out to make another Cars, when the original is often referred to as their weakest film? Personally, I enjoyed the first film. Yes, it is not my favorite project to come out of Emeryville, but it was not a bad film by any means. I was intrigued when I found out that Cars 2 would be a spy film – not a parody of a spy film, but a bona fide spy adventure. On those grounds, it succeeds in a big way, as the action sequences are pretty fantastic and it moves at almost a breathtaking pace. It is an enjoyable adventure film, but if you come in looking for much more than that, you may not walk out of the theater completely satisfied. Read on for a spoiler-free review!

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The Set-Up

Lightning McQueen is invited to participate in the World Grand Prix, a set of three races taking place around the world. Mater tags along as well and unknowingly becomes embroiled in a spy plotline with new characters Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell. The evil Professor Z and his cronies are up to no good and the spy team of Finn, Mater, and Holley aim to take them down.

The Visuals

Wow. The film is visually spectacular. From the animation, to the lighting, to the incredible detail on buildings that are only seen for brief moments, there will be no argument that Cars 2 is one of the studio’s best looking films. The cars move fluidly and believably and the environments that the characters drive through are simply stunning. I have never been a huge proponent of 3-D, but Pixar’s use of the technology is always balanced enough to not annoy the viewer, and the same holds true for their latest. Seeing it at home on the television screen simply will not compare to the theater experience.

The Music

Michael Giacchino is one of my favorite composers. His work on LOST produced some of the best soundtracks ever for a television show, and his (Academy Award-winning) score for Up was emotional and memorable. While his Cars 2 music does not match his previous Pixar work, there is a catchy theme that runs throughout the film that you will likely be humming afterwards. It is great to see Giacchino insert a theme into the film, as the amount of musical themes in movies have been declining over the last few decades. More nice work from the genius of Michael Giacchino.

The Story

The plot for Cars 2 was more complicated than I expected to see for a family film. I had no trouble following along, but I can imagine children not quite ‘getting’ the intricacies of the spy plot. However, that has always been the beauty of Pixar films. There is enough for both children and adults to enjoy. There is genuine danger present throughout, though I do not think it is more than kids can handle.

The spy aspects of the story are well played. It recalls some classic spy films and more modern action flicks like the Bourne franchise. Director John Lasseter said he wanted to create a good spy film – he does that much.

However, I could not help wanting more. While the transition to a spy-oriented story had the sequel feeling extremely different from the first, the change was an interesting choice. Never in a million years after seeing Cars did I imagine we would see explosions galore in a sequel. With the change, though, some of the hearty elements that drove the original film are not as apparent. There are moments that are sweet and touching but I wanted more. Maybe that is just me starting to get used to my eyes tearing up while watching the studio’s most recent films. Cars 2 is not meant to be a tear jerker and I have to learn to accept that. I just wish there was a larger emotional aspect.

This leads into a larger discussion on people’s expectations of a film preceded by the logo with the jumping lamp. What we have come to expect from Pixar has risen to such an astronomical level that it is remarkable that the studio has continued to rise to the challenge. This sounds like it is going to morph into the clichéd, “Even Pixar’s lesser films are miles ahead of what we are used to seeing from many other film studios.” We may have heard that statement many times before, but it is true.

While I would not rank this film among Pixar’s greatest, this is far from being an awful film. The production value is sky-high and it has led to a well-made film. Just because it may be missing that extra oomph does not make it a disastrous effort (as I have seen in a few reviews).

Bottom line

I liked it – didn’t quite love it. Even with the impossibly high standards that Pixar’s constant success has created, Cars 2 is a good spy action adventure that looks gorgeous. Go see it.

Cars 2 arrives in theaters this Friday!

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  • sathya03

    The film is going to be released in my country (INDIA) on June 24th. There is no proper advertising for this movie like other PIXAR movies. and i knew that the movie is going to be great :)

  • Wh23

    hello from Italy
    I think cars 2 is gonna be epic! It won’t let me down.
    I was afraid of hearing what you said about the so-called “moving scenes”, it’s a pity. I really LOVE Toy Story 3 and his deep emotional moments. But, anyway, this is a spy movie and there’s no time to stop and think!
    Thanks from the review!

  • William Jardine

    What would you rate it out of 10 then?

    • Samad Rizvi

      If I had to rate it, I would put it at somewhere in the 7 and 8 range. Most Pixar films have been between 9 and 10 for me. A 7 or 8 is still damn good, if that isn’t clear. It’s a very good movie.

  • Simoa

    I definitely agree! I did feel there was a large emotional aspect to the film, and though very intense, its nothing young viewers can’t handle. Explosions galore, but still funny and with a solid cast of characters and story. I’m a fan of the original, & I never understood the “consensus” that its Pixar’s worst or weakest film. That said, Cars 2 is certainly a lot better than most animated films or other sequels. What I find so remarkable is that it was a serious spy film that completely diverted from the original. Not perfect but still worth a watch.

  • Eli Miller

    I think that if it were from any other studio critics would appreciate a lot more. Pixar is great at putting out emotion and heart , their one of the only studio’s who can do it. And when critics go to see the movie they are disappointed that they didn’t get it. This movie was never meant to be a deep and heart felt movie. Pixar is amazing at putting you into different worlds and they wanted to put you in an action packed spy film. Judging it as a stand alone movie with no comparisons, it was Fantastic. People need to judge it off what it is, not what it could have been. Pixar takes their movies in different directions, and this one was to celebrate action.

    • http://Website(optional) Jalynne

      I agree with this so much. I’ve always been a fan of the first one and have always been annoyed by the intense hatred it often gets. I think people need to stop and realize that Pixar never set out to be a perfect company. No company can put out a box office smash every single time because there will always be critics and plenty of subjective opinion to go around. Pixar just happens to have a winning record thus far. For people to make comments about how Pixar shouldn’t have made Cars or Cars 2 or should save the pop culture films for DreamWorks and other animated studios, is not only unfair to Pixar for refusing them their creative right as well as unfair to the other animation studios who are trying hard to practice their creative right. The problem here isn’t that Pixar has created a movie that’s lesser than any of the others, only that everyone has placed Pixar on a pedestal where it’s easier for them to fall short of what everyone expects. Personally, I don’t want to go into every single animated film just to see a heartfelt piece of cinema perfection. Sometimes I just want a simple diversion that is fun and unique. If the story and characters are solid, then I’m not going to complain if it doesn’t wow me with a broad emotional spectrum. Personally, I didn’t enjoy Up half as much as the first Cars simply because it was so heavy emotionally. I still appreciate it for what it is, an amazing film, but it just goes to prove opinion is always subjective.

  • Ashley

    I loved Cars 2! I am baffled as to why critics are tearing it apart. It didn’t have the hard hitting emotional aspect like the last TS3 or Up, but I was somewhat thankful for that. It feels like critics are just looking for any excuse to bring Pixar down, as I have yet to read criticism about the film that I felt was actually true. It was visually absolutely stunning. I laughed out loud multiple times (the Gustows was genius in Paris), and I do still feel like there was a lot of touching moments (mater and mcqueens friendship)…. I just don’t get the negativity surrounding it!

  • http://Website(optional) Justin Allison

    It was definetly a fun movie. The detail of the car world and the cleverness of the plot was great. And the water at the beginning! Amazing! The problem with it was the pacing. The fast pace worked for the action sequences but when we were in Radiator Springs or just watching conversations between the characters it went too quickly and this caused some cheesey dialogue. It skipped over some important beats and missed some of the character development. A lot of people are pointing out that it acted as more than a spin-off than a sequel. I actually think the whole film would have worked better if it WAS a spin-off with completely new characters. The way the characters had been built up in the first film just didn’t carry over into this one. With a spin-off everything could have been started affresh and the fast-pacing would have worked a LOT better. But all in all its a fun movie and I definetly reccomend seeing it. I certainly had a lot of fun watching it. And honestly, the “Brave” teaser and “Toy Story” short were worth the admission price!

  • Sarah

    Pixar hasn’t ever let their viewers down and this movie is NO exception. It isn’t the most emotional of the Pixar films but it’s a good movie. It’s funny, has great action scenes, has a good story and a really good message about being loyal to friends. It’s a movie that I could watch with anyone. I found myself literally on the edge of my seat at climactic moments and celebrating when everything came to a happy ending. It’s a movie that any kid will love and adults will like too, and it is certainly not Pixar’s first flop. The animation was SPECTACULAR, too.

    The movie ended up meaning quite a lot more to me than expected as well. I recently lost my dad, and one of the things we never agreed on was what movie to watch. I wanted Disney, Pixar, animation and funny movies, and he always wanted his spy movies. Sitting in the theater I saw a movie that was funny, full of action, suspenseful, and took me around the world to finish up in London, where my dad got his P.h.D. It’s about 9 months too late but Pixar made the film that my dad and I both would have loved and shared and I wish SO much we could watch it together. Cars 2 had that extra oomph for me because I brought it myself, and it’s putting Cars 2 in a very special place in my heart.

  • tjbarbour

    Spot on review. Cars 2 is a fun adventure. The action, art and flat out coolness is top notch. The spy and international themes glue your eyes to the screen. The emotional aspect was little more than flat, but I was drawn in nonetheless. Its not as deep as i’d expected but a great film. That said, I’m REALLY looking forward to Brave and this may be the 1st year where I preferred the dreamworks feature over PIXARs offering, but I think that says more about DWs rise than PIXAR slipping.
    Great adventure, must see & don’t let up PIXAR =]

  • Monique MacNaughton

    The critics that are piling onto Cars 2 are, IMO, revealing a lot more about themselves than about the movie. I just saw it tonight, I would have loved to see more of the non-car characters in that world, but with respect to the central characters, they mostly hit the right notes. There were flaws, but nothing killer. The worst thing about it was the family sitting behind me in the theater who wouldn’t shut up with their outdoor voices. It’s difficult to shoot a “withering glance of doom” in those 3D glasses.

  • sathya03

    Finally saw cars 2. A great, different movie by PIXAR. It was like watching a James bond film. Mater was so funny and brilliant. I truly liked the first edition of Cars. Missed Doc in the second part. And i don’t really understand why some people want that emotional touch in all PIXAR movies. Is there any rule that animation (PIXAR) movies are supposed to have that emotional touch in every movies ? And how could you expect that in a spy action movie ? Advice to people those who are going to watch the movie: Don’t read the critics and don’t expect anything.Just go like that and watch the movie. Cars 1 & 2 will be always special to me like any other PIXAR movies.

  • sathya03

    No Brave trailer. No Lion king 3d. Disappointed

  • lumzi23

    I will probably see this in total but the bits I saw were cringe inducing. Like the end in the clock tower. Yikes!