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Cars 2

(2011) ** 1/2 G
113 min. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Director: John Lasseter. Cast: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, Thomas Kretschmann, Joe Mantegna, Bruce Campbell, Eddie Izzard, Bonnie Hunt, Jeff Garlin, Jason Isaacs, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Dooley, Edie McClurg, Richard Kind, Katherine Helmond.

/content/films/4071/1.jpgPixar head honcho and Cars 2 director John Lasseter pushes the credo “Story is king,” but the sequel to the 2006 hit Cars unwittingly abdicates the throne. To be sure, Cars 2 demonstrates technical perfection, and for nearly two hours, the picture maintains an objectively crisp pace and a striking visual busyness. Kids will no doubt continue to be enthralled by the exploits of race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his BFF tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) in the equivalent of “Hot Wheels: The Movie” (meanwhile, a legitimate live-action Hot Wheels movie is currently in Hollywood development), but Pixar’s appeal for adults has never before reached such a low ebb.

Ironically, the franchise becomes duller by embracing the action-adventure genre. If Cars was a kiddie-friendly Days of Thunder, Cars 2 is a James Bond spoof by way of Deliverance. The admittedly dazzling opening sequence finds British secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) discovering a terrorist plot to disrupt the first-ever World Grand Prix, then making a spectacular escape from an offshore oil rig. Meanwhile, Mater ropes Lightning into participating in the race, hosted by alternative fuel advocate Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard).

Mistaken for a spymaster of disguise, the buck-toothed, Southern-fried Mater begins working (and culture-clashing) with McMissile and first-time field agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). This new pursuit makes the less-than-smart Mater more distracted than ever, causing him to cost Lightning a race to narcissistic Italian hotshot Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro). Can this friendship be saved? Will the evil plot of German-made Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann) be foiled? Does a junker leak in a garage?

The most appealing aspect of Cars 2 is its recreation of scenery, from Tokyo to the Italian Riviera to London. Still, despite the photorealistic backgrounds, Cars 2 lacks a realistic texture. Though the sequel maintains a certain invented logic for the world if it belonged to cars, Ben Queen’s script—jokes notwithstanding—fails to take its characters seriously. Here, audiences must laugh at Mater’s incredible stupidity, then pretend he doesn’t deserve to be called an idiot, then marvel at his suddenly astonishing deductive skills. And when it comes to tolerance of Larry the Cable Guy, well, your mileage may vary.

In thematic terms, Cars 2 never runs deeper than this observation from mechanic Luigi’s Uncle Topolino (Franco Nero): “Everybody fights now and then, especially best friends." The vast majority of the picture’s effort is devoted to the dully perfunctory spy plot, Flinstones-style car puns (Victor Yugo, Brent Mustangberger, et al) and making cars go zoom in spic and span 3-D CGI. If Cars 2 isn’t bad, exactly, this mildly amusing G-rated adventure for the first time makes family film leader Pixar fall behind the pack.

[Note: If you go, don’t be late. Preceding the feature is a cute new Toy Story short called “Hawaiian Vacation.”]

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.39:1

Number of discs: 5

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1

Street date: 11/1/2011

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Disney revs up its 3D output with the release of Cars 2 in a Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack special edition. Though perhaps this shouldn't surprise, the 3D of Cars 2 proves a much more thrilling experience from the comfort of your couch. This is a flawless 3D presentation, beginning with the hi-def baseline found in the 2D transfer: brilliant color and crisp contrast, deep black level, and an astonishing level of detail and texture. It all contributes to an even more amazing 3D presentation, with autos zooming toward the viewer and breathtaking depth to the photoreal depictions of global settings. The gobsmacking continues with a flawless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix boasting pindrop-sharp detail, brilliantly designed sound immersion and thunderous musical orchestration.

Included among the bonus features is a directors' audio commentary by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, with the participants recorded separately and car-loving Lasseter making a strong case for the film.

The theatrical short "Hawaiian Vacation" (5:53, HD), the first in the new Toy Story Toons series, returns on disc here, and we also get the debut short "Air Mater" (5:23, HD).

Also here, all in HD, are several featurettes and easter eggs organized by the film's many settings. "Radiator Springs" includes an alternate opening called "Tall Tale Deleted Scene," "Origins of Cars 2," "Radiator Springs Set Exploration," and an art slideshow.

"The Pacific" details the film's opening scene in "Somewhere in the Pacific," the baddies in "Making Lemon-Aides," an "Oil Derrick Set Exploration," and another art slideshow.

"London" covers the climax in "Brawl at Big Bentley," spy tech and action in "Spyified," a bonus scene in "Spy Training: London," and three-dimensional flyovers in "Big Bentley, Tower Bridge, London Eye and Buckingham Palace Set Explorations" offer more fully rendered flyovers, adding a UK trailer and another art slideshow

"Paris" includes "Paris Race Deleted Scene," "Streets of Paris" featurette, bonus scene "Spy Training: Paris," "Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Paris Market Set Explorations," and an art slideshow.

"Munich" comprises a "Germany Deleted Scene," an "Oktoberfest Deleted Scene," a "Mater-Hosen" clip, a German trailer, and an art slideshow.

"Prague" features "Alternate Prague Chase Opening" and an art slideshow.

"Porta Costa" includes the featurettes "Finding Porta Costa" and "Heart of Italy," bonus scene "International Insurance," "Porta Costa and Uncle Topolino's Square Set Explorations," and another art slideshow.

"Tokyo" serves up "Tokyo Race Extended Scene" with optional filmmaker commentary, featurettes "Mater Takes Tokyo" and "Many Nations, One Race," "Spy Training: Tokyo," a "Museum Set Exploration," the Japanese theatrical trailer, and an art slideshow.

"Emeryville" (Pixar's neck of the woods and mine, or close to it) includes "Motorama" (about the annual Pixar car show), "He Lives! Making the Finn McMissile Toy," character development featurette "Animation Pit Stop," the US domestic teaser and a US domestic trailer.

Last up is "Sneak Peek: The Nuts & Bolts of Cars Land."

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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