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Cars 2 (3D Blu-ray Review)

11 Nov, 2011 By: John Latchem

Box Office $191.2 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, $49.99 3D combo, $119.99 11-disc franchise set
Rated ‘G.’
Voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Tony Shalhoub, Joe Montegna, Peter Jacobson, Jason Isaacs, Eddie Izzard, Paul Dooley, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Bruce Campbell.

While most Pixar enthusiasts probably wouldn’t view a sequel to Cars as a necessary addition to the canon, the established setting does easily lend itself to one. Any number of stories could be told in a world populated by living vehicles as stand-ins for people.

The second film finds hotshot racecar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) heading to Japan for a race of the world’s top cars. There, his best buddy Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) is mistaken for a secret agent by British spy-car Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and drawn into a conspiracy involving all the crappy cars of the world (Yugos, Gremlins, Pacers, etc.) uniting to seek revenge on the rest of the world for laughing at them.

Co-director John Lassiter, for whom “Cars” is something of a pet project, explains in his commentary and several featurettes that a lot of the ideas for the sequel were recycled from unused elements from the first movie. The driving force, though, came to Lassiter during the world tour of the first film, as he would view different cities and cultures and wonder what Mater would do in those situations.

The film works best when it’s paying homage to other movies and conventions, such as James Bond and spy movies. Like the first film, there are a lot of clever jokes about how everyday aspects of human life would be experienced in a car culture. But while the first film was a beautiful encapsulation of America’s fascination with automobiles, the second film shows how much the franchise has to strain to maintain the metaphor. A lot of scenes make you wonder about the internal logic of a world of living cars. The concept itself isn’t a tough sell, since the characters are only about one-step removed from being full-blown Transformers. But where the first movie implied all the animals were cars, this one mentions dinosaurs and fossil fuels. In another scene, Finn dives underwater and turns into a submarine complete with a breathing mask, which just raises more questions. And why are they eating actual food?

Driving the story is a subplot related to alternative fuels and a cabal of oil barons looking to maintain its dominance, but any message the film is trying to convey is plagued by generalities that render it less effective than the movie needs it to be. Unusually for a Pixar film, the story seems like an afterthought to service action and visual effects.

Cars 2 is also the most commercial of Pixar’s movies, and it knows it. There are even jokes about how it’s over-merchandized, as well as a featurette about designing a Finn McMissile toy.

Still, Cars 2 is a lot of fun, just not destined to be remembered as an all-time classic like some of the better Pixar films. It is beautifully animated and the 3D doesn’t really call attention to itself, creating a subtle effect that doesn’t detract from the visual splendor of the sweeping vistas and character designs. There are moments where the animation almost feels like stop-motion or model work.

The Cars 2 disc includes a couple of Pixar short films. First, there’s Hawaiian Vacation, a follow-up to Toy Story 3 in which the characters re-create a resort for Ken and Barbie. It’s a welcome return to the “Toy Story” but also a reminder of how much better those movies are than “Cars.”

There’s also a new short, the latest in the “Mater’s Tall Tales” series, called Air Mater, a fun adventure in which Mater joins an air stunt team similar to the Blue Angels. This serves mostly as a tie-in to the upcoming Planes spin-off movie (a preview of which also is included).

The bonus disc includes a preview of the Cars Land attractions that open in 2012 at Disney’s California Adventure, as well as some globe-trotting featurettes and deleted sequences that are clustered according to geographic location (kind of like how the recent “Star Wars” Blu-ray organized its extras).

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