Cars 2 (2011)
POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING
Unlike the first film's fish-out-of-water premise, Cars 2 takes place on a much grander scale, when Lightning McQueen is invited to compete in the World Grand Prix, which would consist of three races in Tokyo, Italy, and England. McQueen accepts and takes his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) along for the ride. Prior to seeing Mater and McQueen, the audience sees a spy car named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) listen in on a nefarious plot that is slowly revealed throughout the course of the movie. When Mater and McQueen are at a party in Tokyo, Mater embarrasses himself and there is the misunderstanding between friends that leads them to separate temporarily.
During a chance encounter in the bathroom, Mater ends up with the tracking device of an American spy (Bruce Campbell) who is captured by the film's villains, a German car (Thomas Kretschmann) and two mooks, a Gremlin (Joe Mantegna) and a Pacer (Peter Jacobson). This leads Mater to be mistaken for an American spy and tracked down by McMissile and another spy named Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who Mater mistakes for a car asking him out on a date. Mater is targeted by the villains and we learn about their nefarious plot.
Before I reveal that plot I may have to do some explaining. You see, Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), the creator of the Grand Prix and a reformed oil tycoon has created an alternative fuel called Alinoll and it is the required fuel for all racers in the Prix. The villains have created a camera that is an electromagnetic pulse creator, and when mixed with the fuel, the electromagnetic pulse causes cars to explode. The resulting mayhem would discredit Axlerod and make alternative fuel look bad, increasing the car world's dependency on common gasoline. The mooks are cars commonly known as "lemons", like Gremlins and Pacers, and it's up to Mater, Holly, and McMissile to stop them before McQueen's last race in England, where they intend to use the camera to kill him.
This is Pixar's first spin at a spy movie, and I priorly said that this easily could have been adapted into the next Bond movie and it would have probably gotten good reviews. I must say that they did the Bond thing better in The Incredibles, but this movie has a decent storyline. I don't know how this could have been considered "rusty" because it is surprisingly smart for a movie about sentient cars (as well as boats and planes in this one). The premise for the first one was rather basic, but this one is more complex, and on a grander scale than its predecessor (obviously taking place in several countries). The dialogue was okay, but some of the jokes were kind of kiddish, this film probably being the one that adult Pixar fans without children would be least likely to go to. There are also some parodies of modern human things in the car world and I liked that, like the separate bathrooms and everything in Tokyo being anime-fied. I also liked the fact that they had sentient boats and planes as well as the cars.
There are two real things that this film has going for it. The first thing is the quality of the animation. The visuals of this movie are fantastic. One of the strengths of the first Cars was the amazing scenery, and this is doubled in Cars 2, showing gorgeous animated scenery of three different countries. My favourite scenery was in the ultramodern Tokyo, but the animation of England and Italy (as well as small parts of France) was gorgeous as well. The France animation wasn't Ratatouille good, but it was still great. Obviously, I saw this in my hotel room, so there was no 3D, but I can actually imagine this kind of working, although there were a few gimmicky moments obviously created for the 3D presentation. Needless to say, this film has great animation, and it's definitely up to the Pixar quality.
The other strength the film has going for it is its all-star voice cast, easily the most star-studded Pixar has gotten (I mean, this is almost Dreamworks star-studded). Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy reprise their roles from the first one, but the latter is featured much more often. I didn't mind it, but this is what ruined the movie for some. I am generally annoyed by his type of aggressively lowbrow humour but anything that can make his voice tolerable (not exactly pleasant, but tolerable) is a plus in my book. Plus, Mater isn't a bad character, he's decently good-natured (albeit slightly annoying) and we genuinely want to see him win. Wilson, on the other hand, is featured much less and is pretty much only there for the racing scenes and the climax. Both are decent in their roles, nothing great but nothing terrible.
The rest of the voice cast is fantastic, especially Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer as the main spy cars. There is an awesomely badass cameo from Bruce Campbell as an American spy car, but there was no doubt of the Bruce Campbell cameo being awesome. Why? Because what the formidably-chinned man does best is being awesome. Thomas Kretschmann did a good job as the German car, and Eddie Izzard was great as Miles Axlerod as well. I could list the rest of the voice actors but it would take too long and they all were pretty good for what they were supposed to do. The film did right in taking full advantage of its awesome voice cast and the only slight weak link is Larry the Cable Guy, but were you really expecting top-notch from him?
I really don't see what was so bad about Cars 2, but I do understand the reasons for why people would dislike it, in reference to my theories at the beginning of this review. However, for those with an open mind, Cars 2 is a wholely enjoyable watching experience. It has gorgeous scenery, a solid story, a great voice cast, and it was a generally fun movie. There are some things I like more in this film than the first one, and some things I like better in the first one. However, for being in the same series, they are two entirely different films in terms of style and tone, and honestly shouldn't be compared because they have a few common characters. I don't know if the film was successful enough to warrant a Cars 3, but I could see one happening. Could it work? Only time will tell.....