The only reason that Cars 2 even exists as a film, let alone being part of the Pixar canon, is that the Disney marketing department realised with the success of selling Cars themed toys to kids that they had a very lucrative and demanding market to tap into.
I don’t think many people at Pixar really wanted to make Cars 2. I know when I mentioned to people that Cars 2 was going to be the studio’s next release I was met with a disappointed look and the question of ‘Why?’ Even now Cars 2 has a ranking of Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, it is the only Pixar film to get this, even Cars rated higher.
The spy/espionage component of the film gives it a more interesting story than Cars, which was all about Lightning McQueen learning to be a better car both on and off the track, and it’s a tired old cliché that has been done many times before. Part of the problem there was that now McQueen had won the title and lost his arrogance and hubris, he didn’t have a lot else to accomplish professionally and he was a pretty bland character without being brash and obnoxious.
So seeing that the film was now aimed squarely at a younger audience who would pressure their parents into buying them associated merchandise what character would they focus on. The answer was Mater. Kids like Mater, mainly because he’s rather childlike and amusing. However adults (maybe it’s just me, but the reactions to Cars 2 support me) find him tiresome. He’s tolerable as comedy relief, but to carry a whole film it doesn’t work.
McQueen’s part of the story centred around him being involved in a series of races in various exotic locations (outside of the continental United States) pitted against the egotistical Francesco Bernoulli, a flamboyant Italian Formula 1 car. That in itself is ridiculous. I’m not even a fan of car racing and Formula 1’s against Nascars, or V8 Touring Cars as we call them down here just does not happen. They’re vastly different machines and they generally compete very separately. By and large they even appear to have different fan bases.
Anyway it does happen and this allows Mater to go overseas with McQueen and get involved with two British spy cars – Finn McMissile and Holly Shiftwell. They think he’s an undercover American spy car and that his whole bumbling, country hick tow truck act is just that an act, never realising that that’s exactly what he is. The British cars are investigating the races, because cars are mysteriously blowing up and it all seems connected to the revolutionary environmentally friendly fuel being supplied by British billionaire Sir Miles Axelrod. Mater in true country cop fashion eventually works out that Axelrod is sabotaging his own series, because he’s the money behind the bad guys who want to continue using fossil fuel. It really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that could be because I had well and truly lost interest by that point.
Even the animation in this one seemed flat and lifeless, like many of the jokes. Despite the critical panning it did well at the box office and the toys were successful, prompting Disney to release two further films (Planes and Fire and Rescue – these were both made by Disney and do not bear the Pixar name, and they’re not part of the Pixar canon, so thankfully I don’t have to watch them for this) and cash in on their related toy lines. Unfortunately it’s also made Disney force Pixar to release Cars 3 mid 2017. Having just heard the vague outline of the story line and seen the teaser I’m not expecting to be pleasantly surprised by this.
Another sequel is up next, but it can’t possibly be worse than this mess.
The original cast, with the sad exception of Paul Newman, returned. I was glad that they acknowledged Newman’s absence and didn’t exactly say that he had died, but implied it, and also didn’t attempt to replace him with a different actor. John Ratzenberger reprised his role as Mack and Richard Kind did the same thing with his part as the crabby tourist car.
Notable newcomers for this one were Michael Caine as Finn McMissile. I have to give some kudos to the animators here, McMissile actually looks like Michael Caine. They somehow made an animated car look like the actor. McMissile was more James Bond than Harry Palmer, and it makes me wonder if they also spoke to Timothy Dalton about the role, but in the end elected to go for the better known name to lend the film some badly needed cred.
John Turturro had a ball hamming it up as Francesco Bernoulli. Turturro loves being over the top and the Italian car let him do that.
British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard provided the voice of Miles Axelrod, but he doesn’t do much with it that any other actor with a decent upper crust British accent couldn’t have done.
I liked the inclusion of Bruce Campbell in a far too short cameo as the tough talking American spy car Torque Redline, it fitted his public persona nicely. They could have beefed it up a little and made jokes about the size of his front bumper.
Screen veterans Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave were Uncle and Mama Topolino respectively and Redgrave doubled up as The Queen (shame Helen Mirren wasn’t available). In the Italian dub Sophia Loren does Mama Topolino’s voice.
As a few films have started to do they included things that were region specific. Well known drivers voiced cars. For Australia we got Frosty, who was voiced by Australian V8 driver Mark ‘Frosty’ Winterbottom.