It only takes a minute to realize Cars 2 is not the first Cars that introduced Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater to our kids back in 2006. It's not Toy Story 3 either or Monsters Inc. NO, Cars 2 is not a poignant homage to friendship or small towns.
The new release from Disney's Pixar Animation Studios is just plain fun. And there's nothing wrong with that, Mom and Dad. Cars 2 is everything a little kid (and the parents who follow them to the movies, ahem) wants. Spies. Fast cars. Blown out tires. Loud noises. And over-grown child Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) moving from supporting role to front and center as the lovable village idiot caught smack dab in the middle of an international spy fiasco ... and at a multi-city international race to boot.
It's as though the people at Pixar stood in front of a storyboard and thought, who did we want to be most as kids, then threw all the ideas at the board. James Bond? Check. Race car driver? Ooh, that's good. Regular joe mixed up in a spy world who still gets to go home at night to hang out with his friends? Gold!
Admittedly, fans of the first flick looking for more of Owen Wilson's Lightning McQueen will be disappointed to find the whiny selfish McQueen is back. So much for all those lessons he learned at the end of Cars about the importance of friendship; he has to re-learn them. (OK, so there is a little poignancy -- it's Disney after all, folks). But it was Larry the Cable Guy's buck toothed Mater who stole hearts anyway, and with him taking top billing, the flavor of the original is retained without the feeling that the movie is just a rehashing of an old story so Disney can sell more t-shirts to the kiddies. Think spin-off, not sequel.
Yes, it's a kids' movie (aimed at boys 7 and up most of all), but they're adventure themes that have earned billions for the Bond franchise in the adult realm. It's hard to get bored when the screen switches from a dirt track to a spy taking down villains with "car" karate faster than you can say "Aston Martin." As Pixar head John Lasseter, who has five boys of his own, told The Stir, he's on strict orders from his wife not to make movies for the first time a family sees it but for "the one hundredth time a parent has to suffer through it on video." It's jam-packed with detail you won't see the first, the second, or even the third time around.
A few talking points for parents: where there are spies, there is gun play. It's not excessive, but you will hear the words "kill Lightning McQueen" in this film, so be prepared! Also be ready to answer questions about alcohol. Although Lasseter assures The Stir that the cars never drink anything but oil, it was only on my second viewing of the film that I saw he was right, there were indeed large bottles marked "OIL" beside the martini glasses. Your kids may not notice that.
Also, keep your ears open for Emily Mortimer as Holley Shiftwell, a British agent who catches Mater's eye, Sir Michael Caine as the Bond-like Finn McMissile, and John Turturro as Francesco Bernoulli, McQueen's chief racing competition.
Are your kids pumped for Cars 2? How about you?
Image via Disney
Disclosure: Disney covered my expenses to view the premiere of Cars 2 and facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.