Star racecar Lightning McQueen and the incomparable tow truck Mater take their friendship to exciting new places in "Cars 2" when they head overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the world's fastest car. But the road to the championship is filled with plenty of potholes, detours and hilarious surprises when Mater gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own: international espionage. Mater finds himself torn between assisting Lightning McQueen in the high-profile race and towing the line in a top-secret mission orchestrated by master British super spy Finn McMissile and the stunning rookie field spy Holley Shiftwell. Mater's action-packed journey leads him on an explosive chase through the streets of Japan and Europe, trailed by his friends and watched by the whole world. The fast-paced fun includes a colorful new all-car cast, complete with menacing villains and international racing competitors.
I'm always surprised at the vitriol aimed at the 'Cars' franchise. Friends and colleagues say these films are nothing more than a cynical, cheap, corporate merchandising cash grabs. And hey, you're entitled to that opinion if you feel that way. But whether or not you like these films, if you ever get a chance to see to director John Lasseter speak about 'Cars' or 'Cars 2,' you hear the gleeful words and see the excited eyes of a man who loves cars in his very soul. A man who played in a sandbox with toy cars and made up stories about them -- something he's still doing decades later. Hearing Mr. Lasseter and the whole Pixar team describe in detail the amount of effort that goes into making any of their films, including the 'Cars' movies, I don't get a whiff of cynicism. Sure, there are some very happy Disney bean counters, but personally, all I see on display here is passion.
But, does passion translate into a good movie?
'Cars 2' takes a cue from successful sequels like 'Aliens' by changing genres. Gone is the ode to Small Town Americana, and in its place we have a spy thriller parody set against an exotic international racing tournament sponsored by an alternate energy fuel. Beside genre, the big shift from 'Cars' to 'Cars 2' is the lead character. While NASCAR racer Lightning McQueen is still here, tow truck sidekick, Mater, takes center stage when his fish out of water antics get him mistaken for a spy. Afterword, Mater must (unwittingly) uncover a villainous conspiracy lead by a band of rogue Lemon cars are trying to seek revenge for years left on the scrap heap.
Mater is a divisive character. As voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, he is simple, clueless, distinctly American, and naïve. I see why some get tired with his clumsy shtick; to be honest, the movie plays out the mistaken identity gag for too long, which makes the real spies seem as dumb as Mater. But that structural issue aside, I generally like Mater. I've always been a fan of silly, clueless characters like Maxwell Smart, Mr. Magoo, and Mr. Bean. Sure, they're dumb and rude, but what makes these characters loveable is that they're really nice. Their naïve worldview is earnest and welcoming. There isn't a mean bone in Mater's body, and so he's a loveable goof. Bottom (or dividing) line, if you enjoy Mater, you'll enjoy 'Cars 2'. If not, then you'll probably find the experience tedious.
Mater aside, 'Cars 2' is also a terrific homage to spy films. All the genre pieces fit nicely, and the villains are unique to this car world. The action set pieces are as thrilling as any modern blockbuster, all while remaining visually creative and geographically coherent (something NOT seen in many modern blockbusters). On the big screen, and now on the small, the Cars universe is beautifully detailed. The cars look right, sound right, and all the buildings and landscapes ooze car culture and design in every frame. My hat's off to the hordes of artisans who broke their backs researching and animating all the minutia. There's a lot I like about 'Cars 2', especially for car nuts like myself (I could talk octane and displacement for hours -- much to my wife's chagrin).
The trouble, I suppose, for any Pixar film is the incredible work they've already done. Does 'Cars 2' compare to an 'Up' or 'Monsters, Inc.' or whatever your favorite Pixar film happens to be? Not in my humblest opinion. From the commentaries and documentaries, it's clear how much Pixar loves Mater and all the characters in this story, but I'm not sure they give the audience fresh reasons to fall in love with them again. The film simply assumes you already do. And while I’m predisposed to love talking cars, I don't necessarily love this movie. It's entertaining, beautiful, exciting, and very good, but Pixar has made so many AMAZING films that very good tends to, as the cliché dictates, pale in comparison. Visually though, Pixar continues to excel, besting all of its computer animation competitors.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Cars 2' comes to Blu-ray in two flavors: a two disc combo pack, and a five disc mega-mega-combo pack. This five disc edition includes a 2D and 3D disc for the film, a 2D disc for the bonus features found exclusively in this set, and then bonus DVD and Digital Copy discs, along with a 200 point DMR code. This set is packaged in a fat pack case, with a lenticular slipcover. The discs in this set are set for Region A/B/C playback.
'Cars 2' in 3D starts out slow, but much like an all too familiar pod race, picks up steam, barrels through every obstacle, and provides thrilling visual entertainment, becoming the "go to" for a number of demo sequences. Presented in 1080p, this MVC encode is no lemon, even if you're one of those who think the film is.
The opening sequence of this film doesn't do this disc any justice. In fact, it's a 3D nightmare. Dark shots taking away depth and clarity, strong jagged edges, burning torches, a ghosting nightmare on almost any disc...it really is not the way to start any 3D film, even if the reticle effects were beyond neat and water splashes had a "wow" factor to them. However, once that sequence is over, this disc shines. Literally.
As we head to Radiator Springs, we get our first day shot, and it's enough to make jaws drop low enough to drive a car through them, anatomy be damned. It's amazing. The layers of weeds, the clarity in each little branch, the depth of picture, the absolute clarity of the mountains in the deepest layers, the sheer depth of picture, it's astonishing! Day shots bring no ghosts, no jaggies, no banding, no aliasing, no this, no that, no problems whatsoever, and daytime exteriors, particularly in this desert region, are by far the highlight of this film, as the doors get blown right off, and stay off. Colors are vibrant, vibrant, vibrant, and vibrant (did I mention vibrant, yet?), while detail levels stun, including fantastic reflections on the various characters with glossier paint jobs.
When we hit Japan, next, for the introduction sequence to the foreign land and the upcoming race, it's a new bit of demo material: night shot demo! The neon lights, the reflections on the wet road, the depth, the way the camera moves through shots adding to the 3D effect, the sheer amount of color and information on screen, it's spectacular! Italy brings some minor jaggies due to the architectural details, but it has some of the deepest looking shots in any 3D film I've ever seen, and the clarity is equally impressive, while the debut shots of the Italian race course are beyond stupendous in their depth and attention to minor detail.
The 3D effects in 'Cars 2' are a mixture of appreciable added layers and windows that don't have pop to them (yet still have so much depth and attention to the added dimension that it's hard to miss!) and stunning, fantastic moments with vehicles zipping to and fro, as this film was clearly designed to feature cars going in each and every direction, to keep you off guard and show how deep the picture can be.
So, chalk up a rough opening scene with non-stop visual perfection, and you have yourselves a go-to title. Disney's Blu-ray 3D success rate doesn't dip here, as this disc features some fascinatingly powerful, amazing shots. Simply put, it's the bomb.
The 7.1 DTS-HD MA surround track is pure auditory delight.
While not nearly as aggressive as something like a 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon', this track is filled with bombastic bass, perfect voice work, outstanding panning, and an array of discrete effects that will suck any listener into the world of 'Cars 2'. It's really hard to review perfection, because there are only so many compliments to be dolled out before resorting to clichés. As the second Pixar film to be mixed theatrically for 7.1, I found my ears enchanted by how the soundtrack doesn't bash in your brains, but rather invites you into its delicate world. The comedy and quiet scenes work just as well as the explosive action sequences and edge of your seat races. Every engine purr, tire squeal, metal crunch is expertly laid out along with the Michael Giacchino's spy-movie music score. If you love full 360-degree panning effects (that, you know, let everyone know you have 7.1), check out a moment early in the film where Mater's voice echoes as he warns people that the pistachio ice cream has turned; that's one of many fun moments in what will sure be highlight to any demo presentation.
Additional audio selections include English 5.1 DTS-HD MA ES, English Descriptive Video Service 2.0, English Dolby Digital 2.0, Espanol 7.1 DTS-HD HR, 5.1 Espanol Dolby Digital EX, and 5.1 Espanol Mexicano Dolby Digital EX.
The two-disc edition of 'Cars 2' features only three bonus features, all found on the single BD50. It seems Bonus Content and HD exclusives are for those who shell out for the 5-Disc 3D edition. That being said, what you do have is both informative (for inquisitive fans) and adds a few laughs.
First, there is a fantastic Audio Commentary with directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis, who talk at length and in depth about making the film and the 'Cars' universe. A must-listen for fans of the film and/or Pixar. Next, there are two short films. 'Hawaiian Vacation' (16x9 AVC MPEG-4 1080p / 6.1 DTS-HD MA, 6 Mins) played before 'Cars 2' theatrically, and is a fun short set in the 'Toy Story' universe (post 'Toy Story 3' in terms of timeline). And lastly, we have 'Air Mater' (16x9 AVC MPEG-4 1080p / 6.1 DTS-HD MA, 6 Mins), another one of Mater's 'Tall Tales'. It's a nice crossover between 'Cars' and the upcoming 'Planes' spinoff.
'Cars 2' became the first Pixar film to receive any real amount of negative reviews, but, in my humble opinion, it's an improvement over the lackluster original. It's fun, it's silly, it's cute, and even if it's a little bit over the top, it makes for a fantastic adventure. Disney has made this 3D combo pack the only way to get the supplements disc, but it's worth the price increase, as the 3D disc is demo once you get past the opening sequence. If you weren't a fan of 'Cars,' you never know, you may actually like this.
Or you'll hate it even more. Either way. This set comes with the highest of recommendations, though.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.