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Friday, June 24, 2011

REVIEW 17: CARS 2 (3D)

Release date in India:
June 24, 2011
John Lasseter, Brad Lewis (co-director)
Larry The Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro

The question all fans of Cars are asking is this: is Cars 2 as good as Part 1? And then there’s the other question everyone asks these days: does the 3D make a difference?

Let me be open about my feelings for Cars: from the moment I began that emotional ride with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) back in 2006, I’ve been in love. So bear with me if I answer your question with a “no”.

No, Cars 2 is not as good as Cars. But yes, it’s still a good film. Whaddyaknow, the switch to 3D actually enhances the experience. And the makers have clearly worked hard to incorporate elements in the story that would benefit from the addition of a third dimension.

For those who didn’t watch the first film, there’s just one bit of information you need before you enter the theatre: this is a film about cars that are not merely cars but anthropomorphised automobiles. So we’re back in the small town of Radiator Springs, where Tow Mater the rickety rusted tow truck (voiced by Larry The Cable Guy), is waiting for the return of his friend Lightning McQueen, the champion racing car. McQueen asks Mater along on his next race which is being organised by the manufacturer of an alternative, eco-friendly fuel. We already know from the film’s high-adrenaline opening sequence that this one will be different from Cars. As things start going wrong on the race track, Mater gets unwittingly drawn into a web of international espionage, and the action shifts from those competing cars to the behind-the-scenes intrigue.

The biggest difference between Cars 1 & 2 is that the sequel moves away from sleepy Radiator Springs and zips around the world, from Japan to Italy to the UK. The other change is that the focal point of this story is not Lightning McQueen but Tow Mater, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Mater is the kind of bumbling, well-meaning chap who the world laughs at because they don’t see his heart of gold. McQueen does, which gives the film an opportunity to serve us some lessons in friendship, loyalty and accepting people as they are. But the selling points of Cars 2 are its neat action sequences, high-speed chases and shootouts, the fantastic visual effects (the ocean and Europe are particularly wow!), the amazing detailing in the depiction of these geographical locations (you won’t believe how authentic the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral and London’s other architectural wonders look) and its lovely sense of humour.  

But all these elements are also the reason why I say that though Cars 2 is a good film, it doesn’t match up to Cars. It’s the emotional quotient that made the first film what it was. Five minutes into the story, I had forgotten that I was watching automobiles and not real human beings on screen. It had its share of races too, but Cars also made me cry and sigh, laugh and smile; it made me long for McQueen to hook up with beautiful Sally. I could feel what he was feeling, I could see her through his eyes, and I could see him through the eyes of the bitter, elderly Doc Hudson. Cars was a very human story. Cars 2 is more like a James Bond film in 3D animation. Among other things, I just don’t see why the writers couldn’t come up with a story which gave as much importance to the wonderful Mr McQueen as it does to Mater. It makes no sense to relegate the charismatic hero of Part 1 to a supporting character whose voice we barely get to hear in Part 2. And surely the lovely Sally deserves more than the few seconds of screen time given to her! With Sally hardly there, and the only ‘woman’ worth mentioning being the British secret agent Holly Shiftwell (voiced impeccably by Emily Mortimer), Cars 2 becomes a mostly-male enterprise.

What that means is that it’s lots of fun, but unlike Cars, it’s not on my personal list of all-time favourite Hollywood animation films. Well, that’s all right, I guess. Because despite everything I’ve just grumbled about, Cars 2 is still a highly enjoyable ride. Larry the Cable Guy (the stage name of the American actor Daniel Lawrence Whitney) is hilarious as Mater. But with Owen Wilson’s Lightning hardly on the scene, my picks of the voice cast are Mortimer and Michael Caine who lends remarkable dignity to Shiftwell’s colleague Finn McMissile.

Do watch out for the Pope and the Queen of England in Cars 2. And if you don’t fall off your chair laughing when Prince William makes an appearance, then I’ll skip an episode of my favourite TV serial for you. What on earth do I mean by this last paragraph, did you ask?! Well, watch the film and you’ll know.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

Release date in the US:
June 24, 2011
MPAA Rating (US):
G (General)
CBFC Rating (India):
U without cuts
Running time in the US:
113 minutes
Running time in India:
113 minutes (109 minutes of Cars 2 + a 4 minute Toy Story short film titled Hawaiian Vacation that will be seen only with Cars 2. It plays right before this film, so make sure you are in your seat right on time.)  

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