Cars 2

When Lightning McQueen (voice Owen Wilson) heads overseas for the first World Grand Prix to prove himself the world's fastest car, he never imagines that his sidekick, tow truck Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), will end up torn between assisting him in the race or becoming involved in a top-secret mission for master British super spy Finn McMissile (voice of Michael Caine). Stunning spy Holley Shiftwell (voice of Emily Mortimer) may just shift Mater's gears in "Cars 2."

Laura's Review: C

You've got to wonder who John Lasseter ("Toy Story," "Cars"), head of both Pixar and Disney animation but returned to director's chair for this, is making the "Cars" movies for now other than himself. Will eight year-olds get the Lassetyre ad joke during the London racing scene? Or the fact that 'You Might Think' is a Weezer cover of a Cars song? They certainly won't appreciate how Holley Shiftwell's computer resources use VIN numbers rather than fingerprints to trace enemy agents. On the flip side, there aren't enough really good jokes, Mater's experience with an automatic Japanese toilet aside, to keep adults really amused either. Any allegiance to characters from the first outing isn't repaid - sure Lightning's still here, but as a supporting character to Mater, and the other residents of Radiator Springs are lucky to get a line. There are more solid laughs in "Hawaiian Vacation," the 5 minute short preceding the film and featuring the post "Toy Story 3" toys, than in all of "Cars 2," the first Pixar sequel to follow a Pixar sequel.

Very quickly we see that espionage will be the focus here as Finn McMissile spies on the goings on aboard an oil rig where Professor Z (voice of Thomas Kretschmann, "The Pianist) is showing a television camera of sorts to a Gremlin and a Pacer. It's James Bond with cars. Finn gets away in a manner that convinces the bad guys he is dead. Meanwhile the announcement that Sir Miles Axlerod (voice of Eddie Izzard) is sponsoring a race using his alternative fuel, Allinol, is stolen by sexy Italian racer Francesco Bernoulli (voice of John Turturro), whose taunting of McQueen gets a defensive call-in from Mater. Lightning agrees to back out into the circuit and brings Mater to Tokyo with him.

The friendship lesson from "Cars" is repeated, as Lightning's embarrassment at Mater's antics drives a wedge between them. Meanwhile Mater makes a trip to the john to address his leaking oil and is mixed up with an American spy by Finn and Holley. As cars on the track during three races in Tokyo, Monte Carlo and London flame out, Finn, Holley and Mater discover that lemon cars are behind the evil doings - but just who is orchestrating everything?

Making Big Oil a villain might sound good on paper, but the story (by Lasseter, Brad Lewis and Dan Fogelman) is just too sophisticated for kids (there was very little laughter at the promotional screening I attended) and too dull for adults. The animation, as always with Pixar, looks great (they do a great job with threatening seas in that oil rig opener), but even here, the addition of 3D is a just an unnecessary high-priced accessory. The problem with the Cars movies is that their world isn't magical. For every thing that makes the human experience automotive, like that Japanese toilet, there are five that simply transfer human experience. Why would cars drink cocktails or eat food? What's interesting about a Japanese Geisha car that sports a wig and fan? How, for that matter, does Mater write a letter?

John Lasseter grew up delivering parts from his dad's auto shop, so this series obviously has a personal connection for him, but it was merely good the first time and has lost some luster since. Kids will be entertained by bright and shiny objects, but not appreciate the story. I was looking at my watch. Cinephiles may find a few things to chuckle over (Mater runs into a headlight vendor - whose eyes are in her headlights - and recoils in horror), but not enough to make the film worthwhile.

It may seem sacrilegious to dismiss a Pixar outing, but despite its state-of-the-art CGI, "Cars 2" isn't any better than most Saturday morning cartoons. It's Pixar's first clunker.

Robin's Review: DNS