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Cars 2

Pixar on Cruise Control

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Pixar has become the name associated with quality animated, albeit CGI, films. Like Disney Animation before it (despite Pixar being released under the Disney title), the studio is the tent pole for which all other animated films are viewed against. However, after 11 nearly flawless films, it seems Cars 2 may be the studio's first true dud.

What's so heralded about Pixar, like the classic animated Disney films, is that its features are truly family films. Sure they're animated, PG, and kids love them, but what's so special is that adults can also relate to them.

Up, for example, contained a truly touching story about lost love that many young kids may not have truly understood, but older generations definitely felt the pain of that loss. Unfortunately, Cars 2 is devoid of an emotional core that has grounded all of the Pixar films and boosted them from merely good, animated movies to great films.

Cars 2 appears to be the first Pixar film that is purely a kids movie, and that's quite disappointing. It could be argued that talking cars is the most "childish" premise of any Pixar film, but is talking toys really that much different? A more valid discussion point may be that that the original Cars was the weakest Pixar to date. Far from being bad (it was actually quite good), it hardly begged for a sequel either.

While all Pixar films have their share of childish, playful humor, they have always been intelligent and witty, at least enough for adults to laugh just as much as their kids. But Cars 2 is full of lazy, childish humor banking on catch phrases a decade past its prime ("you're the bomb" went out of style the same time Soy Bomb did, if you can even recall that pop culture tidbit). It's a kid’s movie, which is fine, but for Pixar that's a huge letdown.

Whereas the first Cars chronicled the journey of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), Cars 2 revolves around a ridiculous plot involving his best friend and red-neck extraordinaire Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). McQueen, along with most of the characters from the original, are merely supporting players in Mater's journey of errors. Making the comic relief the central character of a film is a bad idea. It's like if a new Star Wars film chronicled the excursions of Jar Jar Binks.

The film starts off as McQueen decides to take part in the first World Grand Prix, comprised of three races in Japan, Italy and England, taking up Italian formula racer, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) on his challenge.

He reluctantly decides to bring Mater along, hesitant due to Mater's "worldly" arrogance and for his penchant to get in the way and make a scene. Of course, this is exactly what happens and McQueen distances himself from Mater. In the meantime, however, Mater becomes wrapped up in an international spy mission headed by Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).

It's a comedy of errors with Finn and Holley thinking Mater is just a really dedicated and ingenious American spy, and he gets unwittingly pulled into espionage that is related to the race McQueen is competing in.

It's cute and fun, but having an airheaded character become involved in a situation way over his head only to be integral to diffusing it, is a cliché that's not pushed forward here. Mater's arrogance and one-liners become tiresome after the first act because a comic relief character should be used just for that — relief from the main story. Kids will have a great time laughing at Mater's expense. Unfortunately, their parents will be disappointed in this Pixar effort.