Sequels are usually risky business to begin with, but Pixar seems to have it down. Toy Story 2 and 3 did just as well as the first one - if not better. Cars 2 is a bit of a different story, but far from a flop.
The studio took a risk by having the sidekick, or secondary star, take over the reigns. In this case, Lightning McQueen takes the back seat to Mater the tow truck's espionage adventure. Instead of being set in Radiator Springs, the desert town where the first Cars takes place, the setting and most of the characters from the first film, don't really appear in this fast paced adventure to another continent.
The film starts off with the two cars traveling around the world, to Tokyo, Paris, and London, together so McQueen can race in the first ever World Grand Prix to prove he is the fastest car in the world. Once there, Mater quickly becomes involved in his own espionage adventure when he is mistkenly identified as a top notch US spy. For the record - he is definitely not.
Mater ends up going on a very dangerous mission with newcomers Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), to save the cars from an evil force trying to sabotage the race - although this is completely unknown to him for 3/4 of the film.
The subplot also cleverly explores the notion of gasoline vs. alternative fuel - in this case Allinol with the cars using a new source of energy. So which ones better? We never really see any kind of conclusion, but its nice to see the issue explored.
Although Mater may not be star material, he holds his own for most of the film and delivers some pretty funny scenes with his complete lack of awareness of what's going on around him.
The fact that most of the film is in different countries requires authentic accents. Although they were well-done, it can be a little hard to understand what the characters were saying sometimes, and that might make it a little more difficult for younger kids to stay focused.
The laughs are all in the subtleties of the film. There are tons of cute little cultural references, inluding the popemobile attending the race in Italy and the Queen plays a big role in the British section of the races. These little additions make for an amusing and entertaining ride.
Although much of the film is centered around the secret mission, there is still plenty of racing scenes for the race car lovers in your house. Larry the Cable Guy and Owen Wilson both produce fine performances reprising their roles as the central character. The juxtaposition between their voices and their images makes for an even more authentic and entertaining film.
True to form, the film also has heart - there are always lessons in Disney's films for young children and this film isn't any different. Although Mater and McQueen seem to have their differences and don't always agree, they learn that friendship is more important than anything else and realize that they must stick together and look out for one another.
But will this resonate for kids? It's hard to imagine cars having any emotion at all, so the heart of the film gets lost in the metal of the cars. Although maybe that's the grown-up in me speaking and kids will connect with their cars on an emotional level.
The 3D effects were alright, but didn't do much to improve the look of the film. 3D is a cool touch and kids seem to get excited about it, but there could have been more done with the 3D effects - nothing really seemed to pop.