I saw an advanced screening of CARS 2 last weekend with my friend Chris and his four-year-old son Noah. This was the little guy's first time seeing a movie in a theater, and his father told me it was all he could talk about in the days leading up to our play date.
"Are you excited to see the movie, Noah?" I asked as we pulled out of their driveway at 9:00 AM, a time that I considered obnoxiously early to be heading out for a movie, but Noah was already on hour four of being awake. He screamed an affirmative back at me from his car seat, to which I quickly replied, "Bet you're not as excited as me!" This is how I interact with kids: one-upping them.
His dad piped up then, "Are you wearing CARS underwear?" Damn.
And that right there is the amazing thing about the CARS franchise: It's equally appealing to four-year-olds and forty-year-olds. Oh, and anything emblazoned with its V-shaped hood ornament logo or the likes of its lead character Lightning McQueen will sell by the truck load, including Underoos.
That morning I knew it wasn't going to be a question of whether or not Noah and I liked CARS 2, but rather did we like it like it or totally love it, and would that affection eventually blossom into the purchase of branded undergarments.
Look, I run a website that professes to be obsessed about cars. Of course I liked CARS 2. Any auto enthusiast will like this movie based solely on the fact that he's watching his objects of obsession talk and move and make jokes on the big screen. Pixar makes these cars come to life and act just like the friends they are to us in real life.
You'll also love the sequel for the sheer amount of cars it features on screen. In addition to every resident of Radiator Springs returning, Pixar animators created a hand-numbing 926 new characters for CARS 2. We've introduced you to many of these new characters on Autoblog over the past few months, but there are hundreds more that hang out in the movie's periphery, almost like real extras on a movie set.
The new characters that got speaking parts, however, are acted excellently and include master British spy Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine and evoking an Aston Martin that James Bond would appreciate), rookie agent Holly Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer and plays the part of the helpful Bond girl), Italian F1 racer Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro and Lightning McQueen's only real competition) and SUV-turned-EV Miles Axelrod (voiced by Eddie Izzard and presented as a Sir Richard Branson-type character). There's plenty more new speaking roles, including cameos by Lewis Hamilton, Jeff Gordon and other personalities from car culture, but the above four play the biggest parts.
Whereas the first CARS film spent most of its time in the tiny town of Radiator Springs, CARS 2 doesn't stop jet setting and winds up in locations as exotic as Tokyo, Italy, Paris and London. What would normally be too much travel in a live action film becomes something else entirely in CARS 2, all thanks to Pixar's practice of "Carification." You won't mind landing in London when you see that Big Ben is now Big Bentley and made of Bentley grilles and hood ornaments. When the movie visits Paris, play close attention to Notre Dame cathedral, which sports 24 "car-goyle" statues and exhaust pipes for its famous flying buttresses. Pixar winks and nods to us like this throughout the entire movie, and it won't be until the DVD arrives and we can pause the picture that all of these easter eggs will be found. If you don't mind spoilers, you can read about some more in the press release at the bottom of this review.
While I don't want to spoil too much of the film's plot, I will say I was surprised to find that CARS 2 is not the story of Lightning McQueen, part deux. Rather, Mater stars as this sequel's protagonist and we follow his rusty rear bumper around pretty much the entire time. Don't worry, Lightning McQueen still gets plenty of screen time (as well as real working head- and tail-lights instead of stickers to meet FIA regulations), but he already learned his valuable life lesson in the first film. It's Mater's turn to teach us something.
Also, CARS 2 ventures to make a bigger statement about the world in which we live than did its predecessor. As soon as we leave Radiator Springs, we find this expanded world of CARS to be much like our world, with real problems, real bullets (yeah, cars gets shot at in this movie) and real evil. Good guys and bad guys aren't always clearly marked and our fictional four-wheeled friends must face the biggest issues of our own day. Some critics might say the movie bites off more than it can chew in this regard, and we admit, it does feel like Pixar is preaching a bit, but the message made will resonate with many and there's plenty else here for those whose views don't align with the movie's.
If nothing I've said has convinced you that, as a car enthusiast, you will love CARS 2 as much as Noah and I did, then see it just for the racing. The story centers around the inaugural World Grand Prix, a series of three races that take place in Tokyo, the fictional seaside Italian town of Porto Corsa and London. Since racing cars of all types are allowed to enter, each course features long straights, tight turns and even a dirt section to even the playing field (how else is a rally car going to keep up?). Lightning McQueen and his main rival Francesco Bernoulli are, of course, favorites to win each event, but every race car out there has a chance and these action scenes are what made the movie for me. It's some of the finest animation I've ever seen Pixar do, and I've seen everything that Pixar has animated.
The cynical among you may say that it's exactly because Noah was wearing CARS underwear that this franchise was chosen for a sequel. Of Pixar's 11 feature films, CARS is only the second to be given another shot at the silver screen (the other being Toy Story), and it's not because it's the second-highest grossing behind Woody and Buzz. (It's actually the seventh-highest grossing at $462 million worldwide). The reason is that since its debut in 2006, CARS has sold over $2 billion in merchandise, a few bucks worth of which was used to buy Noah's briefs. That's right, money, as it so often is, was the motivator to make CARS.
So on behalf of all car enthusiasts, I would like to end this review by acknowledging the rarely appreciated positive power of money that led to our obsession being hand-picked for another Oscar nomination. If it weren't for the almighty dollar, this weekend you'd be watching a clown fish struggle as a single parent in an unforgiving sea instead of your world re-imagined with talking cars. Thank goodness for greed.
LOTS OF CAR-ACTER
STICKERS NO MORE -- Lighting McQueen is voiced by Owen Wilson.
He is a Pixar design with a V-8 engine, 750 horsepower and rear-wheel drive.
He has coil-over shocks with tubular A arm front suspension, a solid axle rear end and vented disc brakes at all four wheels. He also has air flaps on his roof to prevent flipping.
His top speed is 200 mph, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.
Lighting McQueen's name is in memory of Glenn McQueen, a Pixar animator who worked on the original "Cars."
Lightning McQueen's "Lightyear" tires are in reference to Buzz Lightyear.
Lightning McQueen's number, 95, is a reference to the year 1995, when "Toy Story" was released.
For "Cars 2," #95 has been outfitted with working headlights and taillights (in lieu of the stickers he sported in "Cars"). But Sally still calls him "Stickers."
AMERICA'S FAVORITE TOW TRUCK -- Mater is voiced by Larry the Cable Guy.
The number A113, which refers to John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton's former classroom at CalArts, makes an appearance in every Pixar film. Mater's license plate is A113.
MASTER BRITISH SPY -- Finn McMissile is voiced by Michael Caine.
Finn McMissile's small tailfins were inspired by a late 50s British sports car called the Peerless GT-one of the few British cars with fins.
Finn McMissile was originally conceived of for "Cars," as a character in a spy film that Lightning McQueen and Sally watch while on a date at a drive-in movie theater. While that scene was cut, Director John Lasseter never forgot the character and so revived Finn McMissile for the action-packed spy story in "Cars 2."
In "Toy Story 3," Finn McMissile can be spotted on a poster hanging in Andy's bedroom.
As a master spy, Finn McMissile is outfitted with a plethora of secret gadgets, including:
Two bumperette grappling hooks
Right headlight spy camera
Left headlight missile launcher
Side mirror digital read-outs and deployable glass cutter
Front wheel hub magnetic explosives launcher
Side vent deployable machine guns
Rear wheel hub deployable surveillance probes
Rear bumperette grappling hooks
Rear turn signal oil blaster
Undercarriage-mounted quad harpoon gun
Hydrofoil for oversea travel
Roof-deployed holographic disguise emitter
Submarine-mode for underwater escapes
FRESH FROM THE ACADEMY -- Holley Shiftwell is voiced by Emily Mortimer.
Newly out in the field, Holley Shiftwell is equipped with some state-of-the-art gadgetry, including:
Front: Projection lamps above headlights that emit a heads-up display, Headlight cameras
Side: Right wheel concealed gun and electro-shock device, Telescoping utility arm
Undercarriage: Mounted dual trackball platforms for controlling the heads-up display, Retractable wings for flight
IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A SPY JET -- Siddeley is voiced by Jason Isaacs.
The Latin inscription on the British secret service emblem seen inside Siddeley the spy jet reads, "Honor Courage Horsepower."
Siddeley's windscreen is a composition of metallic-coated fused silica quartz to withstand the temperature, speed and UV rays Siddeley is exposed to during his high-speed trips around the world.
Siddeley is equipped with cutting-edge cloaking and stealth technologies that allow him to fly undetected anywhere in the world.
His twin jet engines propel him to a world-record speed of mach 1.
Siddeley is 175.658 feet in length with a 156.623 foot wingspan.
The legendary CalArts classroom, where John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter studied, is not only referenced on Mater in "Cars 2." A113 is also Siddeley's tail number.
FROM RACE TRACK TO BIG SCREEN -- Formula 1 racer Lewis Hamilton has a character named after him in "Cars 2," for which he provides the voice and also chose the car's black and yellow paint scheme.
GORDON WINS AGAIN -- The character of Jeff Gorvette in the film is named after and voiced by NASCAR racer Jeff Gordon.
GUIDO X2 -- The character of Guido in the film is named for the Italian verb "guidare" – "to drive." Pixar supervising technical director Guido Quaroni, who is a native of Monza, Italy, suggested this name to John Lasseter, and was then asked to provide the temporary voice. The director liked his voice so much it made it into the finished film. Guido even got a chance to work on the character he named and voices: in "Cars," Guido Quaroni performed shading work on Guido the car!
FAMILIAR VOICES -- The World Grand Prix announcers in "Cars 2" are named after and voiced by icons of the sports world. Darrell Cartrip is voiced by NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip; sportscaster Brent Musburger voices the character Brent Mustangburger; racing driver and sportscaster David Hobbs voices the character David Hobbscap.
PARKING LOT IS FULL -- The "Cars 2" character team built 145 new character models for the film and 781 variants. These variants, which are primarily background cars, include 13 model variants – unique character models that are based on other new models – and 768 shading variants – models that are re-used from classic and new "Cars," "Cars 2" and "Cars Toons" models, but with new, unique paint schemes. In total, there are 926 new characters in "Cars 2."
A GLOBAL ADVENTURE
FIRST STOP-TOKYO – The launch party for the World Grand Prix is held in Japan.
Mount Fuji, seen during the Japan trip in "Cars 2," has been "car-ified" for the film. It has snow runoff that looks like tire tread-marks.
The Tokyo night race in "Cars 2" is inspired by the Formula 1 race through the streets of Singapore.
The Rainbow Bridge seen in Japan is made up of automobile parts, including valves, rocker arms and springs.
OUI OUI PARIS – Though there is no racing in Paris, Mater visits the iconic city as part of his role in the elaborate international espionage storyline.
The Pont des Arts seen in Paris in "Cars 2" is constructed with automobile leaf springs – a type of spring used in car suspensions.
There is a longstanding Pont des Arts custom wherein couples attach a padlock to the railing and throw the key in the river, sealing their love forever. If you look closely at the Pont des Arts in "Cars 2," you can indeed see padlocks on the railing.
John Lasseter and his wife, Nancy, were once told during a visit to Paris that couples are supposed to kiss when they cross the Pont Des Arts. This tip made it into "Cars 2," where you can spot two kissing characters on that bridge.
Paris' iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in the film is adorned with 24 "car-goyle" statues and flying buttresses in the shape of exhaust pipes.
The top of the Eiffel Tower seen in "Cars 2" is the shape of a 1930s European spark plug; its base contains the features of a French wire wheel.
THE BEST OF THE EUROPEAN RIVIERA – In creating the look of the fictitious Italian seaside town Porto Corsa, "Cars 2" production designers combined the racetrack of Monaco with the terrain of the Amalfi Coast.
The casino in Porto Corsa is built on a rocky outcropping shaped like a 1948 Fiat 500 Topolino.
The Porto Corsa Marina is shaped like an automobile wheel.
The church in Uncle Topolino's village is called "Our Lady of Automobiles."
The fountain in Topolino's village commemorates the six Maserati brothers – Enzo, Bindo, Carlo, Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto.
At the craps table at the Porta Corsa casino, the game is played with fuzzy dice, much like the kind you might find hanging from a car's rearview mirror.
CROWNING THE CHAMPION – The World Grand Prix comes to a close in London.
In the London of "Cars 2," the landmark St. Paul's dome is shaped like a car's differential gear casing.
London's famed clock tower, Big Ben, is named Big Bentley in "Cars 2," and is made up of Bentley grilles and hood ornaments.
The Latin inscription below the clock dial on Big Bentley reads "God Salvage Crown Victoria the First" – a reference to the Ford Crown Victoria.
In London, the Lucite canopy over the Queen's platform is based on the canopy built for Prince Charles' investiture as the Prince of Wales.
The architecture of the race pits in London is based on Landau bars, a design feature primarily used on classic European convertibles.
BEHIND THE WHEEL -- "Cars 2" is directed by John Lasseter, who directed "Cars," as well as "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2." In addition to his role as a director, he is also the chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, the principal creative advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering
IT'S THE PITS -- The pit lane configuration for all the races in "Cars 2" is based on the Formula 1 track in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
THE RACE IS ON – Since the racecars in "Cars 2" span a wide variety of car type, the racetracks featured in the film have different technical elements that play to each car type's strength, thus creating an even playing field.
THE RIGHT WHEELS -- The cars seen in the background throughout the film were selected specific to the location (United Kingdom, Japan, France and Italy) they represent, rather than all being US models. For example, the Toyota Magesta, Nissan Figaro, Opel Meriva and Ford Mondeo are among the cars seen in the film that were never imported to America. Even the parts used to "Car-ify" locations are specific to the countries, for example, British spark plugs were used for columns in London's parliament building.
PASSPHRASE PLEASE -- In "Cars 2," there is a secret spy passphrase involving a certain detail about the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. This passphrase was the brainchild of "Cars" franchise guardian Jay Ward, who drove a Karmann Ghia in high school.
CARS COME TO LIFE -- Life-sized remote-controlled models of Lightning McQueen, Mater and Finn McMissile were created for "Cars 2" as part of the "Agents on a Mission" tour, presented by State Farm. The star cars leap off the big screen and into a host of cities, including Detroit, Toronto, Phoenix, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Washington, DC, and Miami, among others.
ABOUT THE MOVIE
Star racecar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and the incomparable tow truck Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) 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 (voice of Michael Caine) and the stunning rookie field spy Holley Shiftwell (voice of Emily Mortimer). 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.
John Lasseter returns to the driver's seat to direct this follow-up to his 2006 Golden Globe®-winning "Cars." "Cars 2" is co-directed by Brad Lewis, producer of the Oscar®-winning film "Ratatouille," and produced by visual effects industry veteran Denise Ream (associate producer, "Up"; visual effects executive producer, "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith"). The film hits the track on June 24, 2011, and will be presented in Disney Digital 3D™ and IMAX® 3D in select theaters.