After the box office bonanza driven by “Cars”, notoriously sequel averse studio Pixar wasted no time in greenlighting a sequel to the metaphorically muddled racing movie. And much like “Toy Story 2” started out as a direct-to-video sequel which was promoted to the big screen, “Cars 2” starts out with the mentality of a cash-grab spin-off and heads downhill from there.
Lightning McQueen, now a multi-Piston Cup winning racer, is invited to participate in a World Grand Prix sponsored by the manufacturer of a new non-fossil fuel. But the race is merely a cover for a dastardly plot by a secret society of fossil fuel companies and only one vehicle stands in their way: secret agent Mater, Tow Mater.
With the racing tacked on almost as an afterthought, “Cars 2” takes all the problematic issues with the world building of “Cars” and doubles down on them to a ludicrous degree. The overarching spy plot is kind of fun, for about five minutes, until the film ties itself in knots trying to make the world work. The level of necessary adaptations and handwaving to enable much of the spy action to occur magnifies the logical discrepancies of this mishmash of a universe to an unavoidable degree. The international settings are pretty – and beautifully animated – but in a world where the dominant life forms are planes, trains and automobiles (and boats too), there’s no reason for picturesque Mediterranean coastal cities to look like that.
The nature of the cars themselves is similarly confusing. Oil seems to be interchangeably used as both blood and/or urine, which makes the oil slick used by Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) unhygienic at best and super gross at worst. Furthermore, Mater’s ‘amusing’ encounter with wasabi suggests that the cars’ tongues are organic in nature which just raises more questions. Arguably the most disturbing aspect, though, are the scenes at the airports. There are baggage cars with human size suitcases on them in a world where nobody would need luggage but that’s as nothing compared to the scenes featuring car-based TSA agents, heavily implying there was a Cars universe 9/11. Just let that sink in for a moment. And if you’re looking for more implied historical horrors, there’s also a literal Pope-mobile so there’s a lot of problematic Cars history to unpack.
There are a few oblique references to Doc having ‘died’ and certainly the spies and bad guys of the surprisingly violent story full of weaponry, shooting and torture are trying to kill each other but mortality is another problematic area for the movie. Do cars die? There’s a reference to certain makes/ models of cars being doomed because ‘they’ve stopped manufacturing them and making parts’, suggesting that genocide is an everyday occurrence in this twisted and sickening children’s fantasia. And who are ‘they’ while we’re at it? Cars are gendered, so how does reproduction work? Agh! This movie hurts my brain.
Everything about “Cars 2” is lazy and cynical. It’s the absolute nadir of Pixar’s output and the only surprise is that the original cast return for this cheap and ill-considered cash-in. The jumbled mess of racing antics, yet another lesson for Lightning McQueen about the true meaning of friendship, a garbled environmental subtext and dumb spy clichés is an egregious insult to the parents it’s boring to tears while simultaneously plundering their wallets with an expanding range of tie-in merchandise. That Pixar made one bad movie was a disappointment, that it went ahead and made an even worse sequel starts to look like carelessness.