"Cars 2" runs out of gas long before it runs out of running time. This sequel qualifies as the rare Pixar misfire. Unlike the wit and warmth of such animated favorites as the "Toy Story" series and "Wall-E," "Cars 2" seems cold and shrill.
One reason why the earlier Pixar pictures work so well is that they aren't afraid to slow down in order to appreciate the gentler emotions common to both humans and anthropomorphized toys. Although the first "Cars" certainly had its share of automotive racing action, it also spent quality time with the automotive residents of a Southwestern town called Radiator Springs.
This helped ensure that audiences would care about those metal-skinned, rubber-tired inhabitants. The pop-cultural jokes and colorful animated effects wouldn't have worked unless there had been a humanistic core to the story.
The sequel immediately declares that it only wants to be loud, fast and relentless. There's a James Bond-style narrative tone as the story bounces around the globe. Despite spending some relatively relaxed time in the desert setting of Radiator Springs, most of the movie bops around to racing events in such distant places as Paris, London andTokyo.
It's initially engaging to see how the Pixar animation team visualizes the monuments in such famous places, and they do an especially notable job evoking the anime-inspired commercial signage of Tokyo. This ultimately proves to be travelogue footage that's not enough to compensate for the weakness of a plot that awkwardly melds together competitive racing and international espionage.
As you would expect, the sporty red car known as Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) zips through this sequel. Much of the action, however, is given over to a sidekick character, a tow truck named Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy).
This southern-inflected, blue-collar-natured truck is meant to be a source of country-bred wit and wisdom, but very few of Mater's observations could be considered clever. Instead, Mater just talks your ear off. His seemingly endless commentary makes "Cars 2" seem like the most talkative animated movie ever.
The intrigue-laden plot isn't very intriguing, because the principal bad guy, a mad scientist known as Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann), simply seems like a formulaic plot device. Similarly, other plot elements including an industrialist interested in developing alternative fuel sources, Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), seem pasted onto the script in order to acknowledge trendy ecological concerns.
Mater and Lightning McQueen are joined by other cars (some voiced by famous actors) that will be familiar from the first movie, but they're all swept up in a frantic plot that fails to deepen any of the characterizations from the first movie.
The global nature of this sequel results in additional car characters that amount to a caricatured United Nations. It's occasionally diverting to hear the ethnic humor embodied by cars ranging from the British-accented Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) to the Italian-accented Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), but these characters unfortunately don't transcend their stereotypical status.
A dull international assortment of car characters, eternally spinning race car wheels, joltingly frequent gunfire, a hectic tour of world capitals, an annoyingly loud musical score, and a motor-mouth tow truck protagonist add up to very little here. The racing energy that keeps the movie zipping forward can't mask the fact that it's emotionally running on empty. Grade: C
"Cars 2" (G) is now playing at area theaters.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun