Disney and Pixar took a gamble with Cars 2, presumably hoping to supercharge a franchise that didn’t quite catch on with audiences when the first film was released. Cars was an entertaining fish-out-of-water story with stunning computer animation and a worthwhile message. Yet, it was overly Americanized (NASCAR racing doesn’t have the global appeal the script seems to imply) and too predictable to capture hearts in the way that the Toy Story films did.
For the sequel Disney and Pixar have wisely attempted to avoid the first of those mistakes by making the story international and throwing in references to car races that are given far more value outside the US than those for which Lightning McQueen is supposedly world famous. They also took the ethos of the first film and essentially turned it on its head. In the result the message is more superficial (real friends are willing to become scrap metal to save each other), the story is even more boy-oriented than the first film’s and the innocence of backwater Radiator Springs is replaced with a global espionage adventure featuring guns, explosions, torture and Mater in a women’s toilet.
Speaking of Mater, this is really his film. Lightning McQueen is the reason why the old rust bucket gets to globetrot as part of the World Grand Prix but it’s Mater that gets mistaken for an international spy and thereby falls into most of the dangerous stuff. The result is entertaining, action-packed and energetic nonsense. Parents sensitive about violence might wish to reserve it for when their smallest children get older (I didn’t and mine seemed to enjoy it), but everyone else should get a kick out of it even if it isn’t up to the standards set by Woody and Buzz. At at least the writers can’t be accused of dredging from the same river twice.
Part of what makes it a pleasure is how great it looks on Blu-ray 3D. Last year I was somewhat stunned by the vivid color palette on the Blu-ray release of Toy Story 3. In HD Cars 2 is even brighter. The only other place I’ve seen colors this vibrant is in a botanical gardens. They infuse the film with an ebullient energy that is infectious so that even if the script doesn’t impress you, the images are likely to leave you uplifted. The next time you have a blue day, Cars 2 would be a film to watch.
The 3D effect is also well used for most of the running time. Cars was full of scenes of landscapes and stadiums rippling with waving flags. Cars 2 is the same but has more varied locations, each of which is reproduced in fine detail. The only times that the 3D doesn’t do justice to this is in night scenes, such as that with which the film opens. Behind 3D glasses these scenes look darker still, resulting in some loss of detail. That’s all the more unfortunate because the overall level of detail in the animation is extraordinary throughout.
Blu-ray Extras: As is typical of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment releases, there is no shortage of supplemental material included on the Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack. Topping the list for fans of the film and the studio partnership that made it is the audio commentary by directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis. It is delivered with obvious pleasure on the part of its participants and includes a wealth of making-of material.
There is also an extensive, if somewhat hit-and-miss, collection of location-themed featurettes and other material under the title Interactive Globe. The material it contains includes more behind-the-scenes stuff that is interesting but it could have been easier to navigate.
Also among the special features are the usual collection of peeks at upcoming titles and two shorts: Air Mater and Hawaiian Vacation. The first is another of the tow truck’s Tall Tales but it feels a bit too much like a lead-in to Disney-Pixar’s upcoming (and so far unconvincing) Planes to be entirely satisfying. The second, in contrast, might be the highlight of the entire package. It is a delightful Toy Story Toon that will leave you pining for another big screen adventure with Woody, Buzz and the gang.
Final Thoughts: Cars 2 is far from classic Disney-Pixar but nor is it the lemon that some critics might have us believe. The writers attempted to take the franchise in a new direction and were partially successful in crafting an exciting, if uneven, comedy-adventure. If nothing else, the energy and color in the Blu-ray edition will brighten your day.