When Pixar studios released Cars back in 2006, it marked a new era for the studio as it created a new partnership with its longtime distributor in the Walt Disney Company. Despite being very successful in the box office and receiving good reviews, many cited Cars as the weakest film that Pixar released. Still, the film’s director John Lasseter decided to go ahead with plans for a sequel despite the loss of a couple of key voices in George Carlin and Paul Newman.
Directed by John Lasseter with additional direction by Brad Lewis along with a script by Ben Queen that is based on a story by Lasseter, Lewis, and Dan Fogelman. Cars 2 has Lightning McQueen taking part in a big international race as he asks his friend Mater and other Radiator Springs residents to help him out. Along the way, Mater is mistaken for an American spy as he becomes part of an international espionage with other spies helping him. A more ambitious film than its predecessor, Lasseter and company take the story to new worlds while paying homage to the spy film franchises of the James Bond and Jason Bourne movies.
Featuring a voice cast that includes returning voices from the previous film in Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Paul Dooley, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, Guido Quaroni, Katherine Helmond, Michael Wallis, and John Ratzenberger. The film also features another large ensemble that includes Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Krestchmann, Jason Issacs, John Turturro, Joe Mantenga, Bruce Campbell, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, and Michael Caine as Finn McMissile. Cars 2 for all of its visual flair and yearning to entertain is a messy yet underwhelming film from John Lasseter and Pixar.
Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation
Directed by Gary Rydstrom and screenplay by Rydstrom, Erik Benson, and Jason Katz that is based on a story by Benson and Christian Roman. Hawaiian Vacation is a mini-sequel to Toy Story 3 as Ken and Barbie sneak into Bonnie’s backpack hoping they would be in Hawaii for a vacation. Instead, they’re in Bonnie’s room during the winter time as Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, and the rest of the gang give Ken and Barbie a vacation they will never forget.
In what is set to be the first of a series of shorts from the Toy Story franchise, Hawaiian Vacation allows audiences to catch up with Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of the old gang to see how they’re settling with their new owner Bonnie as well as her other toys like Trixie, Mr. Pricklepants, Buttercup, and various others. When Ken and Barbie sneak into Bonnie’s backpack in hopes they would join her for a week trip to Hawaii, the plan doesn’t work out prompting Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys to give Ken and Barbie an unforgettable vacation. What happens is lots of funny moments that also includes a hilarious appearance from Spanish Buzz as it shows how much the toys care for each other. The result is truly not just one of the best shorts that Pixar has made but also a chance to see Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang (old and new) do what keeps the audiences smiling.
After winning a fourth Piston Cup in which it was re-named in honor of the late Hudson Hornet, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) returns home to Radiator Springs for a break. During a night out with Sally (Bonnie Hunt), a TV report about former oil tycoon Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) has created a new alternative fuel called Allinol. Axlerod also announces a big international race featuring the best racers in the world to promote Allinol that is to feature F1 racer Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) who claims to be faster than McQueen. Mater makes a call claiming that McQueen can beat him as McQueen decides to accept the challenge. Taking his entire pit crew to Tokyo for the first race, McQueen also takes Mater though isn’t sure how Mater will fit in to a world that different than Radiator Springs.
Meanwhile, a British spy named Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) is trying to uncover a plot led by a bunch of old cars including a scientist named Professor Zundapp (Thomas Krestchmann). With help from a new agent in Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), McMissile tries to find the American agent at a party where they mistake Mater as the agent who unknowingly has the information that McMissile needs. At the first race in Tokyo, a series of miscommunications involving McMissile and Mater causes McQueen to lose the race as he gets Mater kicked out of the pit crew. With Mater Shiftwell and McMissile, his knowledge of engines have him be part of their team though he tries to tell them that he’s not a spy as they go to Paris and later Italy to see what is happening.
Arriving to Italy for the second part of the race, McQueen and team stay at Luigi (Tony Shalhoub) and Guido’s home village where McQueen feels guilty over his fight with Mater. Though the second race proved to be more successful for McQueen, he and Bernoulli wonder why the other cars they’re racing have been in accidents prompting blame towards Axelrod. Mater finds out what is going on as he, Shiftwell, and McMissile have been captured. With the third and last leg of the race in London, Mater and the spies learn what Zundapp and his cohorts are doing as it’s up to Mater to save the day for everyone including McQueen.
The film is about a World Grand Prix race taking place while a couple of British spies tries to uncover a plot to get rid of cars and alternative fuel to ensure the dependence of oil. That’s a good idea yet the problem is that the film has no idea what it wants to be. On the one hand, there is an exciting spy story that is reminiscent of the James Bond and Jason Bourne movies. Then there’s this story about racing cars that also keep things exciting and added to the middle for both is a character who is kind of a simpleton (except when it comes to car parts) who has never been to a world outside of Radiator Springs.
The character of Mater is a fun, enjoyable character where in the first film, he was just a supporting character that is used as a comic relief. In this film, he becomes the protagonist and it doesn’t really work. Mater works only in small doses but to have him as part of a story of international espionage just doesn’t really work. While there is some development about his character, it ends up being a bit heavy-handed along with the message about people accepting them for who they are. For some reason, that doesn’t work as it creates a film that is very uneven and messy.
Director John Lasseter does create some exciting moments in the racing and action sequences that keeps the audience entertained. Yet, the fact that he has two different storylines that does come together towards the end doesn’t really gel very well. With co-director Brad Lewis, Lasseter seems to try very hard to get everyone and care for the characters. Yet, there’s some from the previous film that aren’t in it very much while Lasseter does give the Doc Hudson character a fitting tribute. Yet, there’s also moments where there’s too many characters to keep track of as some new ones are cameos while others aren’t fleshed out as much. Despite Lasseter’s wonderful imagery and vast compositions along with some great action and racing sequences, he creates what is definitely a very uneven film that tries to do too much without a story that could be more simplified.
Cinematographers Sharon Calahan and Jeremy Lasky do some fine work with the cinematography and lighting. Particularly with the scenes in Tokyo at night that is very colorful along with the gorgeous look of the Italian seaside. Editor Stephen Schaffer does a nice job with the editing as he creates some amazing cuts to keep up with the rhythm of the action sequences including the opening sequence which is really an outstanding sequence on its own.
Art director Jay Shuster does a phenomenal job with the look for many of the locations on the film including Tokyo, Italy, Paris, London, and Radiator Springs. Shuster definitely adds a beauty and liveliness to the locations that does make it enjoyable to watch. Sound designer Tom Myers and co-sound editor Michael Silvers do an excellent job with the sound from the layers of explosions created to the sound of tires on the raceway to create something that is a spectacle for a film like this. The music by Michael Giacchino is pretty good as he creates a score that is a bit reminiscent of John Barry’s work for the James Bond movies while adding a bit of country flair for Mater. The film’s soundtrack includes a diverse array of music such as a cover of the Cars’ You Might Think by Weezer and a couple of songs by Brad Paisley that includes a duet with Robbie Williams which are all quite decent.
The voice cast that is assembled for this film is very large as there’s a lot of characters and appearances from many actors in the film. Among the large ensemble that appears in the film includes Bruce Campbell and Jason Issacs as spies, Jeff Garlin as a broken down car in Radiator Springs, and in the roles of various racers, John Lasseter, Jeff Gordon, and David Hobbs. Italian film legend Franco Nero makes a wonderful appearance as Luigi’s uncle who gives McQueen advice about friendship while Vanessa Redgrave does double duty as Luigi’s mother (with Sophia Loren providing the Italian voice) and as the Queen of England. Darrell Waltrip, Brent Musburger, and Lewis Hamilton are all right as broadcasters for the Grand Prix. Joe Mantegna and Peter Acer are pretty good as a couple of villains who are after Mater while Thomas Krestchmann is very funny as the evil scientist Professor Zundapp.
From the previous film, there’s John Ratzenberger as Mack, Katherine Helmond as Lizzie, Michael Wallis as the sheriff, Cheech Marin as Ramone, Jenifer Lewis as Flo, Paul Dooley as Sarge, Tony Shalhoub as Luigi, Guido Quaroni as Guido, and Bonnie Hunt as Sally are all very good with Shalhoub and Quaroni providing some funny moments while Lloyd Sherr is OK as Fillmore, who replaces the late George Carlin. Eddie Izzard is pretty good as Miles Axelrod, an oil tycoon trying to sell new alternative fuel while being the target of everything that is going wrong. Emily Mortimer is excellent as Holly Shiftwell, a new agent who goes on her first field mission while providing some of the technical readouts that McMissile needs.
Larry the Cable Guy is OK as Mater where at times, he can be quite funny but he’s best when he’s just a supporting character. Too much Larry the Cable Guy isn’t a good idea and his brand of low-brow humor isn’t for everyone which one of the reasons why having Mater as a protagonist doesn’t work. Owen Wilson is all right as Lightning McQueen as his character is a bit more mature while trying to deal with Mater’s presence whom he realize is really his best friend. John Turturro is great as Francesco Bernoulli, the F1 race car who always dazzle his character with charm and trying to outwit McQueen in a game of insults. Finally, there’s Michael Caine as Finn McMissile as Caine not only makes the character pretty cool but also engaging and witty. It’s definitely Caine doing what he does best as he makes Finn McMissile into a superb character that should have his own movie.
Despite some fun moments and some good technical work, Cars 2 is very disappointing film from John Lasseter and Pixar that tries too hard to do a lot with so little. While its action sequences, humor, and racing scenes will be enough to provide entertainment for younger audiences including kids. Adult fans might feel disappointed by the fact that it does too much while having the character of Mater as the protagonist isn’t for everyone who isn’t used to Larry the Cable Guy’s sense of humor. In the end, Cars 2 represents the first real dud for Pixar studios though it is still better than a lot of the mediocre animated film that has come out for the past 10 years.
Pixar Films: Toy Story - A Bug's Life - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters, Inc.) - (Finding Nemo) - The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - WALL-E - Up - Toy Story 3 - Brave - Monsters University - Inside Out - (The Good Dinosaur) - (Finding Dory)
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