Everybody’s fallible. Even Pixar. The wonderful animation studio, creator of “Up” and “Wall-E” and the “Toy Story” franchise, has finally stumbled.
Maybe “skidded” is the right term, because the movie in question is a sequel to “Cars,” its 2006 hit. “Cars 2” isn’t awful, but it isn’t great, which counts as a comedown for Pixar.
Curiously, the down-home comedy of the first film is replaced here by a spy story, which feels welded on to the “Cars” universe. The first movie’s hero, a red race car named Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), takes a back seat here to his sidekick, a rusted-over old tow truck called Tow Mater.
Mater, you can hardly help recall, is voiced by cornpone comedian Larry the Cable Guy.
This drawling jalopy is whisked away from humble Radiator Springs and goes off on a world tour when Lightning competes in races in Japan, Italy and England, but the real story is not Lightning’s competition with arrogant Formula One car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro, giving the most spirited vocal performance) but in international intrigue.
The spy stuff ought to be more fun than it is. Pixar chief John Lasseter, who co-directed this film, has spoken of his love for 1960s spy thrillers like “The Man from UNCLE” and other James Bond knockoffs, so lots of the cars have a vintage-’60s look to them.
So far, so good, and Michael Caine is apt casting as the chief secret agent (he looks sort of like 007’s Aston Martin), and so is Emily Mortimer as the Emma Peel-like associate spy.
There are some fun gizmos, which take full advantage of the 3-D process.
The movie looks incredible, especially an early sequence at sea; how do they get computer animation to do that, anyway? At times I grew distracted thinking how much energy goes into creating the reflections off the shiny surfaces of the cars, which shimmer as though catching some offscreen light source (which can’t possibly exist, but it looks cool).
But the story … hmm. While we periodically check in with the buddy comedy (Mater feels neglected by his flashy pal Lightning), the spy-movie action just feels kind of hollow.
And the comic stylings of Larry the Cable Guy take over the picture. Mater might not actually utter the immortal phrase “Git-‘er-done,” but LtCG’s shtick is otherwise given the spotlight.
“Cars 2” is buoyant enough to score a hit with its target audience. The only audiences guaranteed to be displeased with the film are executives with Exxon and Shell: the movie makes it clear that oil companies are deviously blocking the development of electric cars and alternative fuels.
Guess we won’t expect those “Cars 2” action figures at BP stations.
“Cars 2” (2½ stars)
An unprecedented stumble for Pixar Animation: this sequel about the talking cars of Radiator Springs veers off into a globe-trotting spy picture and never quite gets into gear. A misfire by Pixar standards is still a generally enjoyable film, and the animation is pretty incredible, but the charm is lacking.
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