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Pixar has a rare reputation for producing hugely original and entertaining films, so it is with some trepidation that I note of late they’ve started doing sequels: Toy Story 3, and now Cars 2. The cynic in me would point out that these also corresponded to the franchises with the greatest merchandising opportunity, and therefore profit, as opposed to the films with the most artistic merit; the original Cars is perhaps the weakest film to ever come out of the Pixar stable. However, the quality of this sequel, which far surpasses the first instalment, allows me to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.
In Cars 2, the annoying All-American shiny jock of a car, “Lightning McQueen”, suitably voiced by Owen Wilson, thankfully takes more of a back seat (so to speak). Instead, his loveable, small-town deep-South clichéd friend, “Tow Mater”, takes the leading role, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy (no, seriously, that’s what he’s credited as). The plot takes the form of a James Bond pastiche crossed with Formula 1, set in an intricately detailed animated world, where anthropomorphised vehicles are the sentient life forms.
The script is witty and the well-paced. Top British secret agent, “Finn McMissile”, voiced impeccably by Hollywood’s go-to stereotypical Brit, Michael Caine, is on the trail of some dastardly villain who is plotting to sabotage cars in the World Grand Prix, a race promoting a wonderful new ecological fuel, Allinol. Through a classic series of farcical events he believes Mater to be the American colleague he’s been sent to meet, and thus much comedy ensues as the plot twists and turns to its inevitable conclusion.
The animation is of course stunning, with varied backdrops and many special effects allowing the artists to run wild; from sea to desert, with explosions in between, this is the current pinnacle of computer animation. The Tokyo setting is a glorious neon-coloured homage to anime, the Italian Mediterranean impossibly rustic and attractive, and the stereotypical London stuffed with more British flags than really exist in the whole United Kingdom.
Whilst Cars 2 lacks the originality of Wall-E or the empathetic connection of Toy Story, it remains thoroughly entertaining, and the inimitable Pixar attention to detail still lifts it a cut above most of its animated contemporaries. From subtle references to other films, such as Finn’s, “And I suppose you think I work in Import/Export”, (James Bond’s cover story), to the incomprehensible Japanese toilet, there are hundreds of little throwaway background details that are sure to make you turn to your friend and go “did you notice?” as soon as the credits roll.
Allinol, perhaps not pole position, but still on the podium.