Now a four-time Piston Cup champion, the world-famous Lightning McQueen returns to Radiator Springs to see his old friends, much to the delight of best chum Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). However, formula champion Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) challenges McQueen to join him in the World Grand Prix, an event created by Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) to advertise his new fuel Allinol. McQueen, along with Mater, Luigi (Tony Shalhoub), Guido (Guido Quaroni), Fillmore (Lloyd Sherr) and Sarge (Paul Dooley), heads to Tokyo, where Mater's buffoonish behaviour starts to grate on the racing star. Meanwhile, weapons designer Professor Zundapp (Thomas Kretschmann) and his cronies are taking out cars using an electromagnetic pulse in an attempt to scupper Axelrod's plans and secure oil profits. This catches the attention of international super-spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his partner Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who mistake Mater for a fellow spy and hire the clueless tow truck to help with their mission.
This may sound like a bold move for a franchise built on low-key themes of friendship and humility around a traditional fish-out-of-water story, and Cars 2 fleetingly captures the imagination as McMissile swings onto an enemy oil rig, gadgets at the ready. But this is no longer Lightning McQueen's story. Instead, they push Mater, the comic relief best served in tiny doses, front and centre. Not only do his shenanigans increasingly annoy, they are also painfully unfunny. Many of the memorable supporting cast from the first movie are either heavily sidelined or given the boot altogether, and the story is so disjointed that it's difficult to keep up with the endless roster of forgettable, newly-introduced characters. Kids will love it though, and that's all that really matters when it comes to box-office receipts. There's enough colour, slapstick and racing action to keep them on their seats, and the animation again is truly wonderful. While this may get a pass if released by Dreamworks, mediocrity never used to be on Pixar's radar, and the high standards are still expected. One need only look at their Toy Story trilogy to see how inspired their sequels can be, which makes the middling antics of Cars 2 all the more crushing.
Directed by: John Lasseter
Voices: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Thomas Kretschmann, Bonnie Hunt