Cars 2 Review
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Year after year, the creative masterminds at Pixar release one stunning work of animation after another. They create unforgettable characters. They paint stunning digitally-animated pictures. They infuse smart humor into magical stories that make grown men weep.

Meanwhile, year after year, skeptics and competitors wait for Pixar to produce its first big flop—that movie that will disappoint audiences and bomb at the box office. But now, after seeing Cars 2, I think it’s safe to say that Pixar will never produce a big flop—because even an off day for Pixar is still a pretty good day for animation.

As the long-awaited sequel opens, legendary race car and four-time Piston Cup winner Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is thrilled to return home to his friends in Radiator Springs—especially his best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), and his best girl, Sally (Bonnie Hunt). But a little bit of trash talking from Italian racer Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) convinces him to join the first-ever World Grand Prix—a three-part, globe-trotting race, created to promote a new eco-friendly fuel called Allinol.

Lightning brings Mater along for the adventure, but he quickly becomes embarrassed by his rusty friend’s less-than-sophisticated behavior. And things start to get deadly when Mater is mistaken for a brilliant American spy.

In creating Cars 2, co-directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis were obviously well aware of some of the biggest complaints about the original Cars: that the film’s low-key desert setting and laid-back story made for a rather sleepy animated drama. The sequel, then, is the original’s polar opposite. It’s fast-paced and flashy, with more characters, more action, and more humor. As a result, it’s definitely more entertaining than the original, but it’s also less refined.

It’s no big surprise that, visually, Cars 2 is absolutely breathtaking. Once again, the Pixar animators show that they’re still miles ahead of the competition. Starting with the opening scene, as British spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) engages in a stunning 3D chase scene on a top-secret oil platform, the CGI animation is remarkably lifelike—even when it comes to big animation obstacles like fire and water. And as the film travels the globe, it captures the different cities and their personalities perfectly—from the neon lights of Tokyo to the fountains and piazzas of Italy.

The action, meanwhile, is nearly non-stop, as the energy of Lightning’s World Grand Prix races blends with the suspense of Mater’s international espionage to create a thrilling adventure. But, in the process, the story loses much of the heart that usually makes Pixar movies so charming. Sure, there are messages about friendship and being true to yourself—but they tend to get buried under the action. There are plenty of laughs, too—but there’s more silliness and bathroom humor than you’d expect from Pixar.

Perhaps one of the film’s biggest flaws is that it focuses too much on Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater. A lovable character in small doses, the rusty redneck tow truck is less lovable when he takes center stage. His constant bumbling easily shifts from endearing to irritating as he starts ruining races and putting himself—and his friends—in danger. And his clumsy luck often makes him feel more like a four-wheeled Mr. Bean—or even The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau—than an adorable side-kick.

Of course, despite its weaknesses, Cars 2 is still far better than the average animated film. It’s thrilling and funny—and, visually, it’s absolutely brilliant. But, as far as Pixar movies go, it lacks the wit and sophistication—not to mention the heart and soul—of recent releases like Toy Story 3 and Up. It’s still loads of fun for the kids, but it isn’t the usual Pixar crowd pleaser.

Blu-ray 3D Review:
Lightning McQueen and his four-wheeled friends are ready (and able) to race off your TV screen and into your living room, thanks to the five-disc, Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / digital combo release of Pixar’s Cars 2. In addition to the eye-popping 3D graphics, though, the set also comes with a truckload of extras.

For starters, there are the shorts: both the new Toy Story adventure, Hawaiian Vacation (which opened for Cars 2 in theaters), and Air Mater, which follows Mater as he goes to flight school and becomes a stunt plane. Included with all three versions of the film (including 3D), it’s a lovably bumbling adventure that shows how endearing the rusty tow truck can be in small doses.

For even more extras, check out the bonus Blu-ray disc. Many Disney releases come with a map to help you navigate your way through the features, but the Cars 2 bonus disc is a map. The interactive menu lets you travel around the globe, from Tokyo to Radiator Springs and other international locales, to find galleries, slideshows, behind-the-scenes features, and a whole lot more. A few highlights include Origins of Cars 2 (found in Radiator Springs), in which John Lasseter discusses the film’s inspiration, Motorama (in Emeryville), which explores Pixar’s annual car show, and the Tokyo deleted scene—a fully-animated extended first lap of the Tokyo race, which shows off even more of the film’s stunning animation.

The bonus disc is absolutely loaded with little Pixar treats. So if you’re stuck inside on a rainy day, be sure to spend some time globe-trotting with Pixar and its animated autos.

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