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'Cars 2' back to drawing board

Published June 29. 2011 05:02PM

"Cars 2" takes its audience for a ride. That's not necessarily a good thing.

The sequel lacks the charm of the 2006 original animated feature. It borrows standard plot devices and smashes them together in an attempt to take a, ahem, different turn.

The Pixar Animation looks great. The spiffy polish of the cars (and the rust on the tow truck, Tow Mater, as well), the renderings of glass, trees, inflatable promotional balloons, road surfaces well, just about everything is remarkable.

The photography, as in tracking shots (whereby the camera follows the action along a particular line) for the auto races; and the background settings for the races (Tokyo, Italy, London and fictional Radiator Falls) are so realistic you forget that you're watching an animated film.

And that's just it.

Why, when you have the most advanced animation technology at your disposal, would you want to replicate reality? Why not just make a live action film?

"Because you can't put Charlie Chaplin in a milk bottle" is how one legendary animator (I think it was Chuck Jones) once described the delight, potential and lure of animation. In other words, animation allows film-makers to achieve what they cannot in reality.

Of course, in "Cars 2," as in its predecessor, you have talking cars. That is certainly not reality (with the exception of "My Mother the Car"). So, you have the raison d'etre for animating the cars. However, the cars in "Cars 2" are given short shrift (or is it, shift?). There isn't enough dialogue. The cars, as characters, take a, shall we say, back seat, to the action.

And plenty of action there is: three big races, with lots of smash ups and scenes where the cars mix it up. But there is precious little voice dialogue, one of the, er, driving engines of animation. The voices and visages of the voice talent often inspire animators to draw character likenesses based on them.

There's yet one more dent in "Cars 2." The cars' eyes float on the windshield, opening and closing as if by huge sunshields (as in the original). Every motorhead knows a car's grille is its mouth and its headlights are its eyes.

In "Cars 2," dialogue is dominated by Larry the Cable Guy (born Daniel Lawrence Whitney), again voicing Tow Mater, more of a central character here than even the protagonist, Lightning McQueen (voiced by the clearly identifiable Owen Wilson). If you're a fan of the boorish Mr. Guy, which I am not, then, his central role in "Cars 2" will please you. As for me, I wanted Tow Mater towed to the nearest junk yard.

Supporting characters (voiced by the likes of Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro) don't have enough screen time nor memorable lines to make much of an impression.

John Lasseter (director "Cars," "Toy Story 2," "Toy Story") and Brad Lewis, who both wrote the story for "Cars 2," along with Dan Fogelman ("Tangled, "Bolt," "Cars" screenplays), co-direct from a screenplay by Ben Queen (TV's "Drive").

The screenplay is cliched. The race scenes are excellently rendered but, again, you saw this in "Speed Racer," televised NASCAR races and "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977), for that matter. There's a lot of James Bond spy car borrowings, a "Perils of Pauline" sawmill type scene (here, it's the gears of London's Big Ben clock) and the inevitable ticking bomb.

There's a convoluted storyline about offshore oil rigs (which brings unintended but nonetheless uncomfortable thoughts of the Gulf Oil Spill), an alternative fuel and a plot resolution that seems politically-motivated. The device doesn't so much as drive the plot as create, if you will, plot holes.

"Cars 2" should please the little ones children under, say, eight. Tweens and adults shouldn't race out to see "Cars 2." And, if you do, you don't have to see it in 3-D. There aren't enough eye-popping 3-D effects to warrant the extra ticket cost. Once again, 3-D makes daylight scenes seem as though they were made on a cloudy day.

Far more amusing is the animated "Toy Story Toon" featuring "Toy Story" characters that preceded "Cars 2." Make sure you don't miss it.

"Cars 2," MPAA rated G (General Audiences. All Ages Admitted); Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy; Run time: 1 hr., 52 min.; Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Closing credits include a montage of suitcase travel stickers, maps and other destination memorabilia and Brad Paisley is back to sing two songs inspired by the movie: "Collision of Worlds" and "Nobody's Fool." The Cars' "You Might Think" is heard during the movie.

Box Office, June 24: "Cars 2" took the checkered flag, opening at No. 1 with a solid $68 million, with "Bad Teacher" opening at No. 2 with a strong "$31 million, dropping "Green Lantern" to No. 3, $18.3 million, $89.3 million, two weeks.

4. "Super 8," $12.1 million, $95.2 million, three weeks; 5. "Mr. Popper's Penguins," $10.3 million, $39.4 million, two weeks; 6. "X-Men: First Class," $6.6 million, $132.8 million, four weeks; 7. "The Hangover Part II," $5.8 million, $243.9 million, five weeks; 8. "Bridesmaids," $5.3 million, $146.5 million, seven weeks; 9. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," $4.7 million, $229 million, six weeks; 10. "Midnight in Paris," $4.4 million, $28.6 million, six weeks

Unreel, June 29:

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon," PG-13: The Space Race between the United States and the former U.S.S.R. was really an attempt to locate a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon. Will the Autobots or Decepticons learn its secrets? In the science fiction thriller, Michael Bay again directs Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, but not Megan Fox instead, it's Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Unreel, July 1

"Larry Crowne," PG-13: Tom Hanks directs himself in the drama-comedy as an out-of-work retailer who goes to community college, and Julie Roberts as his professor. Wags are calling it "The Company Men" meets "Eat Pray Love" by way of TV's "Community" starring the duo from "Charlie Wilson's War."

"Monte Carlo," PG: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy star in the comedy about an young woman mistaken for an heiress.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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