‘Cars 2′ Review

Published 4 years ago by

Cars 2 Review Cars 2 Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Cars 2

It’s been five years since the original Cars film debuted in theaters – and now director John Lasseter is back (with help from co-director Brad Lewis) for a second lap with Cars 2. The original Cars film was a commercial success and an enormous franchise-building hit with younger audiences; however, reaction from non-parents was (for the most part) mixed – especially for a Pixar film. While the anthropomorphic Cars may have captivated children, in terms of story (and merchandising), the film was pretty limited – and featured some of the most one-note or least-likable Pixar characters to date.

Despite the mixed reaction from older moviegoers, there’s no doubt that Cars is one of the more popular Pixar brands when it comes to children, so it wasn’t surprising when Cars 2 was announced back in 2008. The film was slated with a summer 2012 release date – and then bumped forward without an explanation. To combat the criticisms of its predecessor, Lasseter and Lewis made sure that Cars 2 would offer-up a larger adventure – not to mention one that would appeal to a wider audience beyond children and racing fans.

Unfortunately, despite some decent additions to the cast and a slightly more interesting central plot, Cars 2 still leans on a number of problems established in the first film – specifically the series’ leading men, Lightning McQueen and Mater (Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy, respectively). Sure, the film is designed for kids, but with a growing number of Pixar films that feature mature subject matter (the opening scene in UP) as well as sophisticated characters (Wall-E), the slapstick humor, shallow relationships, and flat-out bizarre thematic take-aways in Cars 2 seem like a significant step backward for Pixar. Though, given the unparalleled success of the studio, a step backward means that instead of a great film, Cars 2 is just a mediocre film.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic premise of the Cars sequel, the story focuses on the continued odd-ball paring of “best friends” Lightning McQueen and Mater the tow truck, as McQueen enters the World Grand Prix (a series of races sponsored by the creator of a new alternative fuel). Following the events of the first film, McQueen has become the premiere racecar in the world, which has put stress on him and Mater’s relationship, since Mater isn’t as refined as many of McQueen’s friends in the industry. When Mater’s hijinks cause McQueen to lose an important race in Tokyo, the tow truck decides to return home to Radiator Springs. However, before he can board a flight back to the states, Mater is mistaken for a CIA agent in deep cover, and is subsequently swept-up in an international tale of espionage and mystery that not only threatens the immediate Grand Prix racers – but the fate of every single Car in existence.

Larry the Cable Guy as Mater in Cars 2 Cars 2 Review

Larry the Cable Guy takes center stage as Mater in 'Cars 2'

The Cars 2 story somewhat shifts protagonist duties to Mater this round – with Lightning McQueen serving in a supporting role and nearly every other returning Cars character sitting in the pits: i.e. Sally, Ramon, Flo, Mack, etc. Shoving all the prior characters aside leaves very little room for McQueen to do anything but react to Mater – despite the sense that the larger story arc of the film expects the two to be on equal footing. Cars 2 is partly about the evolving relationship between the central characters; unfortunately, the film does very little to make McQueen a particularly likable character (a problem that carries-over from the first installment) and is only compounded by a heavy thematic focus on the ups and downs of “best friendship” – even though McQueen seems to only tolerate Mater (not actually enjoy his company).

At the same time, it’s hard to fault McQueen: Mater is an obnoxious and out-of-control character ninety-percent of the time, making it difficult to reconcile the film’s other take away message: be yourself. Of course children, who are under constant pressure to fit-in, should be encouraged to embrace their passions and sense of self – regardless of how others might see them. However, it’s hard to connect this mantra with Mater, who spends most of his time acting out: tipping cows, disrupting other cars, and failing to listen to the instructions and/or needs of others. Admittedly, Mater’s slapstick hijinks will be a hit with kids; however, given Pixar’s ability to create films that also convey mature themes to older audience members, it’s hard to not be disappointed by the lack of evolution and depth in the main Cars characters.

Aside from a convoluted lesson about “Big Oil” (no matter which side of the issue you champion), Lasseter brings in a number of fresh grills and improved story ideas that make the film a bit more enjoyable for anyone who isn’t sold on the McQueen/Mater combo. John Turturro is great as McQueen’s World Grand Prix rival, Francesco Bernoulli, adding a little fun and heart to the less-engaging race storyline. While the relationship between Mater and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) is forced, even for a CGI cartoon, at least the character has more to offer the film than McQueen’s love interest, Sally, had in Cars (and subsequently Cars 2).

Michael Caine as Finn McMissile in Cars 2 Cars 2 Review

Michael Caine brings British class to Finn McMissile in Cars 2

Additionally, Michael Caine voices one of Pixar’s most enjoyable (albeit flat) creations to date – British secret agent, Finn McMissile. Not only does the character (and subsequent story) mix-up the Cars franchise formula, but watching McMissile, as well as the evil Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann) and his henchmen, in action provide the film’s best moments. Pixar still manages to surprise with some creative set-pieces that showcase how an anthropomorphic car could easily hang with some of Hollywood’s best human secret agents.

This is Pixar, so the technical aspects of the film are, as always, extremely well done. Cinephiles looking for great, albeit cartoony, visuals will definitely walk away with some memorable impressions – note: the ocean water in the opening scene is especially impressive. Since the film is entirely computer animated, the implementation of 3D is competent compared to most 3D offerings – however, unlike UP, audience members wouldn’t be missing much if they decided to pass on the ticket upgrade and see Cars 2 in 2D instead.

In general, Cars 2 is pulled down by the shortcomings of the prior installment – and, at times, seems like two films of differing quality interwoven together. Sequences that feature McMissile are somewhat compelling – with exciting action and clever references to a number of famous spy films, whereas the more traditional racing story arcs seem forced into Cars 2 simply to present a familiar experience to fans of the original. As mentioned, fans of the first film will likely enjoy both the World Grand Prix as well as the international car of mystery plotlines – however, older moviegoers who felt as if Cars may not have been one of Pixar’s finer hours will be equally unenthusiastic about Cars 2.

If you’re still on the fence about Cars 2, check out the trailer below:


[poll id="164"]

Follow me on Twitter @ benkendrick — and let us know what you thought of the film below.

Cars 2 is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

TAGS: Cars 2
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  1. I think the movies aren’t worse than other Pixar offerings, but are clearly directed at the youngest of movie audiences. If you’re old enough to read or write a movie review, the movie wasn’t made with you in mind. I wouldn’t go see them without kids, but as a parent of a 3yo boy, I appreciate that the movie has less of the ‘please the adults’ themes that I’m not ready to discuss with him. I think the movies are paced well (slow) and are 100% age appropriate for the youngest movie audience. That might not make them fun to review, but I’m glad someone as good as Pixar is making movies for that audience.

    • Agreed. There are so few movies I would even consider taking my 3 year old son to see. Watching him watch and become lost in the animation was really fun, and my apologies to the adults who came to our showing who had to endure my son calling out the name of every car he knew the name of every time it came on screen.

  2. i think the only reason it’s getting such negative reviews from people is because it’s the Sequel no one really wanted and people expected so much more from Pixar. Even a bad Pixar movie is better than most stuff out there. Personally i thought it was the best animated film since last years “Toy Story 3″

    • so you think this is better than kung fu panda 2?

      • yes, and “Rio”, “Megamind”, and “Rango”.

        not to say those are bad movies, but i just think “Cars 2″ was better.

        but i just remembered “Tangled”, it’s hard to pick because they’re but very different, but i think “Tangled” inches past Cars for me. But thats one mans opinion.

        so i was wrong, not the best movie since Toy Story 3, but the best since Tangled.

    • I thought Megamind was better and Tangled was leaps and bounds better. Cars 2 was just awful much like the first film.

  3. Pixar made Cars for kids. Not adults. People seem to forget that.

    • That is not their reputation. Their motto always has been to make films that they themselves would like to see (“they” being adults themselves), and for most of their track record, that has born itself out rather plainly.

    • No one is forgetting these are kids films, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s either good or bad. Cars , toy story , UP, tangled, or Incredibles are all kids films yet some of them are actually good movies. Pixar has always made kids films with the enjoyment of adults in mind as well. Pixar has been great at this since day one, but Cars simply isn’t good and it simply doesn’t have the enjoyment for adults that others have had.

      • But kids love it. That’s all that matters with kids films.

    • I agree that the movie is made for kids. My bigger criticism is that young kids don’t have exposure to spy plots and oil vs alternative fuel schemes! I thought the characters were fun, but found that my 6yo was lost in the more mature plotline and my 8yo was only slightly more savvy. The idea that your friend is your friend and you standby each other translates, but I found the other aspects of plot a stretch, especially for the 3 and 4 yo boys with which the first movie was so popular.

  4. Going to see it today, I think it will he good

  5. This will be the first Pixar film I wont see in theaters. I have seen all of them in theater and loved all, except Cars. The first was ok. Partly may be Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy, two voices I can’t stand. Might as well due the trifecta and put seth rogan in it. They had better options for sequels. Is it me or does it feel like Pixar is running out of new ideas? Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Monsters Inc 2. Up was beyond amazing and I loved TS3, but whats with this run of sequels? I realize they have another original coming up, but its odd. They went from only 1 sequel to now having 3 new ones in a matter of a few years.

    • Well as long as they do it well. Monsters U probably will. But i think another one in 2012 called Brave will be the real winner. Seems amazing.

  6. The critics are missing the point, this is like a manly action movie for little boys!! My son loves cars and has since the first one. There is not 1 other movie EVER that he has been more enthusiastic about. I can’t wait to take him.

    • As stated several times in the actual review – kids will love this film (as well as the parents who get to enjoy watching their kids enjoy this film).

      However, non-parent fans of Pixar who were entertained by the deep emotional connections in UP or Wall-E (not to mention Toy Story 3), will likely find Cars 2 to be a disappointment.

      • I am a twenty year old college kid with no children. I spend most of my film time watching the serious highly acclaimed films that the Academy and more serious critical audiences love, but I chose to go see this film and I must say it was amazing. Pixar didn’t take themselves too seriously and that is exactly what makes it such an enjoyable film. They incorporated so many scenes, jokes, and themes that brought me back to old Bond and Bourne films. As an adult watching the film I found myself grinning all the way through, and appreciating the simplicity of message. Animation, and creativity were as always with Pixar amazing! It is not a lack of sophistication that made me enjoy this film, instead sometimes I find it most sophisticated to enjoy a film aimed at filling films original purpose. Pure entertainment!

  7. Well, I’ve just returned from watching Cars 2…but let me get to that in a second. First, check out that “what do you think” poll of yours and you’ll find that the vast majority of folks who have seen it give it not
    one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE stars!
    Now, let’s talk a little about my reaction to it…it’s filled with fun,
    great messages about friendship and loyalty, spectacular animation, lots
    of action and a thing this particular critic who is standin’ pretty much
    all alone in his views just doesn’t understand at all…imagination.
    When you are trying to pretend to be intellectual, as this particular critic apparently is, well, how could anything with Larry the Cable Guy’s
    voice in it be good? This movie wasn’t good…IT WAS GREAT! Pixar makes
    films for normal people…not critics. They have been spectacularly successful following Walt Disney’s idea that it is THE STORY that matters.
    Mark my words, this film is, like all the other Pixar products to date,
    going to be SPECTACULARLY successful at the box office! And, no, I don’t
    pretend to be intellectual in my reaction to the film…I join the vast
    majority of folks who love Larry the Cable Guy’s voice…and give this
    film fully what it deserves…5 STARS! And, no, I don’t have any kids…
    but I was one once…long, long ago… Wild Ol’ Dan

    • That’s fine, that’s their opinion and this is the opinion of the reviewer of the film.

      Go look at the Green Lantern review, where over 20% of people gave that film 5 stars – in other words 20% of the people who voted basically thought it was perfect.

      I’m starting to think we should just give every movie 5 stars so people will stop complaining.


      • ‘Stop complaining’? Correct me if I wrong, but isn’t this website called ‘ScreenRant’ where people can express their own opinions, likes and dislikes, good and bad? So, I am pretty sure this isn’t http://www.ScreenMyWayOrTheHigwayOpinionsAndMovieReviews.com.

        O.K. Just having a little fun with you guys. Vic – I am surprised you would make a comment about giving everything 5 stars so you don’t have to hear complaints. This is just people expressing there opinions that doesn’t match with probably yours and Ben’s assessment of the movie.

        To me, a big part of whether I like a film or not is the EXPECTATIONS and pre-conceived notions I BRING to the film. From what I gather, you and Ben wanted and expected a deep, moving, intelligent movie. Cars 2 does not live up to those expectations.

        If you went with no expectations or went looking for a fun ride or 2 hours of escapism, then it was a good, fun movie.

        Ben qualified his comments like this, “it’s difficult to recommend Cars 2 to moviegoers who are expecting the string of competent, deep, and sharp film” Well, if you qualify that way, Ben is right.

        Personally, I was thankful for the negative reviews; I went to the movie not expecting too much. I had fun and enjoyed it for what it was.

    • I never said that Larry the Cable Guy’s voice was the problem – or that he couldn’t be in anything good (though, I have heard other critics say that). My problem with the film stems from the mixed messages, flat storytelling, and mostly unlikable or one-note characters.

      Calling critics out for being too “intellectual” is a cop out. Reviews are subjective but it’s our job to inform people who are undecided about a film and in this case, it’s difficult to recommend Cars 2 to moviegoers who are expecting the string of competent, deep, and sharp films Pixar has been releasing to continue. As mentioned several times, fans of the original Cars will love it (I expect you’re in this boat wildolddan) as will kids and parents.

      But, I’m sure even a lot of people who aren’t would-be “intellectuals” will still find this movie to be one of Pixar’s biggest disappointments.

    • Screen Rant is not alone in their view of the film. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 34% approval rating. Not saying that Rotten Tomatoes is the end all end all, but it shows that there are several other critics who share Ben’s opinion.

      A lot of the reviews I’ve read have been pretty scathing. One called Mater the Jar Jar Binks of the Pixar Universe. Cinema Blend wrote a whole thing on how he’s bad for kids. The Post said that Pixar “proved the yaysayers wrong” and made their worst film ever.

      I’ve not seen the movie and I have no plans to. I saw the first Cars and was far from impressed. It’s the only Pixar franchise that’s more for the kiddies and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m very surprised that a Pixar movie got a rotten rating, yet alone something in the 30%…

    • 10 points to guess which mountainous state this guy owns an underground bunker in…

    • HAHA YES! Finally someone who seems to enjoy great movies. Cars was one of the best pixar films. It was my favorite, until I saw WALL-E, but its a close second! I love this movie and can’t wait to see the second one. I’m glad you have good sayings for this film :)This movie is hilarious :D

  8. A sequel to this movie was the worst idea Pixar’s had. The first one was easily the worst of the Pixar movies. No idea why they made a second.


      • Yes, of course.

    • When it was first announced, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe it was a shot at improving on the first, but considering the descriptions and the reaction, it seems the only logical reason left is the 2 billion annually in merchandising. The impression was magnified for me when Screenrant released a full tally of the lengthy list of new characters in the new film. As I understand it, Cars 2 merchandising has squared away specific deals with Wal-Mart, Target and numerous other retailers, and the franchise has pretty much taken over Disney stores to the point they would more aptly be called “Cars” stores.

  9. This movie was not good. Stop to protect this movie, it was not good at all…

  10. I just saw it and I think it is better then the original

  11. I thought it was pretty good, fun with lots of action. My wife liked it too. The story was not as compelling as the other pixar offerings but the fun factor was there. My 4 year old loved it, thats the most important part. The movie was clearly directed a kids but I didnt have to pretend to like it like some other kids films. I enjoyed the first one and this one is good also. I had a great time with the family at this one. As a family film I give it 5 stars, but as just a film a solid 3.

  12. never go by RottenTomatoes for how people view a movie.

    remeber that “Piranha 3-D” has a 74%
    and that “Boondock Saints” has a 19%

    alot of reviews i’ve found there say that they dont give the film a negative review because it’s bad, they just expect more from Pixar. and i can understand that. Pixar has been thee studio for great films. whenever they release one thats just ok, it pails in comparison. I stand by saying that Cars 2 is a really good film thats enjoyable for adults to watch with their kids.

    i know some people who criticize Pixar for it’s reliance on cheap emotions and lack of story depth. This movie entertains purely on visuals and jokes that arnt stupid or cliche.

  13. ‘featured some of the most one-note or least-likable Pixar characters to date’
    so damn true, cars is probably the only pixar movie i haven’t even bothered with, i’ve seen around 20min of it in total and just didn’t get the feel of the movie. imo cars is def their weakest link.

    imo this is the one pixar series which is actually aimed at kids – no emotional stuff for us older people. that being said, this will more then likely pull in a ton of cash (just like ever pixar movie). i didn’t really get into wallE either, it just seemed really boring and short (and it wasn’t all that funny either).

    i really hope pixar doesn’t fall under hollywood’s current trend and start making a ton of (unneeded) sequels, that will def ruin their rep.

  14. The vitrol against the Cars franchise is simply amazing. I found Cars I to be really enjoyable, and regret listening to all the negative hype and not seeing it in the theatres (which I will be doing with Cars II). It doesn’t appear any shallower or more trite than any other Pixar film (is ANY Pixar film trite? Really?), the messages are clear and upbeat and the characters are interesting and relatable. So why the hate-fest?

    My theory – Cars focusses on small towns and the more rural-trending activities. I grew up in the small town, have attended county fairs (with demolition derbys and stock car races) and have an uncle and cousins who are stock car racers. While I vehemently denounced the lifestyle (and small towns) when I was in my 20′s and 30′s, the softness of age has created a fondness for those youthful times. Growing up in a small town does not make you uncool. Liking NASCAR doesn’t render you stupid. I love city life and will never move back to my rural past but I don’t feel the urgent need to denigrate it any longer.

    The Cars franchise is fun. It has good characters with their own flaws. The storylines are solid and move along at a good pace. It’s PIXAR! Relax and enjoy. ^_^

    mac :]

    • The dislike has nothing to do with it being a small town or rural area. It’s simply bad film with poor story elements, bad dialogue and horribly unfunny jokes. Sure kids can enjoy it, but these are adult reviews meant to let adults know if they will. Because adults can enjoy many of the others because they are well written, smart, funny and a little more complex. The only point of reviewing these is to let adults know if they will like it because of course the kids will. Kids enjoy just about anything that’s tailor made for them.

      I currently live in a small rural area. Very small with a tiny population no larger than 3 miles wide. I love it here and could spend the rest of my life here. I hate big cities and could never tolerate living in one. I love my small town life. Yet I hate cars.

  15. My kids and I have always loved the Pixar movies. Cars is one of our favorites. I’m sure Cars 2 will be loads of fun. We’re looking forward to it.

  16. Ben-
    Critics do have a right to be wrong…and you have, based on this
    weekend’s box office, exercised that right very well. Even your own
    poll continues to show the majority of folks giving this film 5 stars
    and, in so doing, directly contradicting your analysis of the film.
    And this may well be the reason that more and more people are simply
    ignoring the views of critics. Critics often appear to develop what can only be called an “attack” mentality and enjoy going after the largest and most successful motion picture companies like Disney and Pixar. As I recall a very large number of these intellectual critics said that the
    newest Disney Pirates film was terrible…and yet it is headed toward that
    billion dollar number at box offices throughout the world. Now, don’t get me wrong…you can attack just about everything on the Disney Channel
    these days and I will agree with you 100% without question. But Cars 2
    is an excellent family film…a 5 star film…and the “target audiences”
    for it are voting at the box office in huge numbers… Do you have a
    responsibility to a few intellectuals or do you have a responsibility to
    the vast majority of the movie going public? Check the numbers…more than a few folks are not agreeing with your thoughts on this particular
    movie…but those “intellectuals” especially those with hands stained by
    rotten tomatoes are totally agreeing with you. The movie business is a
    business designed to make money…from that perspective it is hard to deny that PIXAR has yet another incredible success on their hands. Why?
    High Quality Product following Walt Disney’s philosophy about the most
    important thing being story! People go to the movies to be entertained,
    to escape the commonplace…and in the case of Disney/Pixar movies because it makes them happy!
    Well…no need to argue…the bottom line is telling the story…and
    critics have got to get ready to attack the next and last Harry Potter movie…another multi-billion dollar franchise. But, uh, don’t expect
    people to stay away from that one by what you say either…that just ain’t
    gonna happen. See ya at Disneyland…or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter…(by the way, did you know Harry Potter increased attendance at
    Universal’s Islands of Adventure by 30.2% in the Wizarding World’s first
    year? And now, Disney’s California Adventure Park is building a thing called “Cars Land” or something like that…just thought you might like to know…hope they can handle the crowds…) Wild Ol’ Dan

    • Just because it does really well in the box office doesn’t mean it’s good. For example, Transformers 2 made insane amounts of money. So did Tim Burton’s Alice movie. The Twilight series continues to rake in the money despite consistently wooden acting and unlikable characters.

  17. Its for the the kids to enjoy why you older guys bother a lot its not for you

  18. cars was awesome but I bet cars2 will be better

  19. Parents, have a look at a Mom’s perspective before you take a young one to this movie:

  20. I have now seen the movie Cars 2 3 times and in between have refreshed my memory of Cars. Cars 2 is FANTASTIC!! It’s funny, it’s clever and it’s the best sequel to any movie that has been produced in a very long time. I wondered where Lightning and the other wonderful characters would end up after Radiator Springs. Total props to the creative folks at Pixar! Once again the talented people there have transformed a surreal place, time and characters to a mind blowing realistic world. To the people that have complained about taking the America out or not making McQueen the star attraction, for one, the movie is “CARS 2.” Not Lightning McQueen. You all must have owned a lemon when you were much younger and you are bitter and jealous. For the ones that thought Cars 2 was “violent” for their children to see. I will not and would hope Disney would never apologize for the grown up interactions in the movie since Cars came out in 2006. Against your will your children have grown up and amazingly so did the characters and concept of the movie. Did your child enjoy ALL of the Shrek movies? What about the Toy Story movies? How about the Suite life of Zack and Cody? Regardless of what your personal, out of date opinion is of Cars 2 is, they seamlessly integrated new characters, an interesting mission with real world facts and may have even set up the chance for a spinoff. What will you do then? Tell your child nothing changes? No one grows up? Good luck. Get over your self. Kids love this movie. So what’s wrong with you?

  21. As one of the few people who thinks of the original Cars as their favourite Pixar movies I didn’t think the idea lent itself to a sequel and was skeptical walking into the movie theatre. However the film blew me away and I enjoyed it more than the first.

    Firstly it’s hugely fun regardless of any deeper meaning, and it is afterall a kids film, so what does it matter if it’s not as meaningful as the other Pixar flicks. Secondly I disagree about Mater being obnoxious, he’s a loyal friend who makes a few mistakes which is fair enough as in this movie he’s a fish out of water who ultimately saves the day, reminded me a bit Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings. The message of individuality applied to his looks as well as his personality, and by the end of the movie he’d realised his faults while retaining his essential “Materness” making for some nice character growth.

    I don’t think the messages in the film were as clear as they could have been, but I found it as enjoyable as any other Pixar movie. I think it’s a shame there are so many negative reviews out there, clearly a genuinely fun children’s film with a positive message isn’t enough these days.

  22. I have two children aged 6 and 9. They both stopped watching the Cars 2 dvd (19.95 retail)a little over the half way mark and put in another dvd. They liked cars, but cars 2 is tedius, complex and awkward.

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    • i hate the one where the blue car died think tat is cruel for little children to watch the car just blowup