I seem to stand in the very low percentage of people who think that Cars is not Pixar's weakest film. People often cite that it's more of a Dreamworks film, and simply not Pixar quality. I've always given that review to Finding Nemo.
Cars had laughs and heart - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Cars 2 is an unnecessary sequel - but they got away with it. The golden rule for any sequel is that you must up the ante. Cars 2 delivers on this. We now move out of Radiator Springs and focus on a world of espionage and an expensive World Grand Prix.
While Cars focuses on the character of Lightning McQueen, we now move on to the story of Mater. Lightning isn't gone, he's just subdued. Here, we follow as Mater is thrown into a Bond-like world of thrills and spies. Silly old tow-truck.
Cars 2 balances precariously on the line between a sequel and a spinoff. The trouble with spinoffs is that 99% of the time, a fun side character from the original is given his own movie, and it's awful. For the most part, spinoffs are Kronk's New Groove all over again.
Few films handle the responsibility of giving that fun, side character their own movie. Nicholas Stoller proved he could do it with Get Him to the Greek, where the character of Aldous Snow was not exploited, but explored. I'm proud to say that John Lasseter has done this with Cars 2.
"What crazy antics will Mater get himself into now?" That could easily have been the recipe for a disaster of a movie. Luckily, Cars 2 provides us with both endless Mater fun and a well-developed look into Mater's humanity. The crux of the heart in Cars 2 rests on the friendship between Mater and Lightning. It won't rip your heart out the way Up does, but it's solid and carefully crafted.
Unfortunately, Cars 2 does not manage to overtake the amount of heart in Cars. The emotions we feel for the friendship here do not rise above the emotions we feel for the town of Radiator Springs in the first film. It's not that the emotion fell short, it's just that there's very little they could have done. They push it as far as they can, but in the end, it's just not as moving as the rest of Pixar's resume. And there's no way it could be - this is a sequel that didn't need to be made.
However, this is where the movie's shortcomings end. Cars 2 practically doubles the level of action and fun from the first film, bringing us a spy-world as intense and sleek as any Bond film. Finn McMissle, voiced by Michael Caine, is an excellent addition to our new cast of characters, as well as the hilarious Francesco Bernoulli, voiced by John Turturro.
It goes without saying, yet again, that the animation is spectacular. Pixar's reputation for gorgeous animation has not failed them yet, and the cityscapes in all the different parts of the world we get to see are truly astonishing. Check out the opening shot of the water - it took them 6 months.
It should also go without saying that Michael Giacchino's score is one of the best aspects of the whole product. I'm starting to suspect the man is incapable of writing anything bad. He picks up the right riffs from Randy Newman's original score and pumps them up with his own flair in a way only Giacchino can. He continues to blow my mind.
I've said it, but it's really the only way to sum the movie up, so I'll say it again. There was no reason to make Cars 2. Disney is, above all, a money-making company. It's no coincidence that Pixar started pumping out their sequels once Disney bought them. Hopefully their next project, Brave, will be a return to the originality and spirit that Pixar is now known for.
Cars 2 shouldn't have been made, but it was, and they did a great job.