Cars sequel fun, but not a powerhouse racer

When you’ve smacked it out of the park at the ridiculously consistent pace that Pixar has established, it’s going to come as a bit of a downer when the latest hit doesn’t sail into the bleachers.

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) races through the streets of Tokyo in Cars 2

Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) races through the streets of Tokyo in Cars 2

When you’ve smacked it out of the park at the ridiculously consistent pace that Pixar has established, it’s going to come as a bit of a downer when the latest hit doesn’t sail into the bleachers.

But here’s the good news; Cars 2, while underwhelming, still hits the fence. And that’s a lot better reach than most imitators could ever hope for.

Hey kids, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I love Pixar, but even more importantly, I’m amazed by Pixar. This studio not only churns out films that simultaneously entertain both wee ones and grown-ups, it’s brilliant stuff, again and again. On any given day, I would take six or seven minutes of a Pixar offering than a whole serving of brand X down the hall in the multi-plex (case in point, the opening sequence of 2009’s Up or the closing moments of 2010’s Toy Story 3 both better than 99 per cent of anything released since). Their product is that good, that smart, and that polished.

But then, there’s Cars 2. It’s awfully fun. But when the bar has been set so high, hurdling over that sucker is one tough chore. And this sequel isn’t quite up to the task.

Owen Wilson returns as the voice of Lightning McQueen, now three-time Piston Cup champ, rustled from his off-season rest in Radiator Springs by a European race car (John Turturro), who challenges him to compete in an event called the World Grand Prix. So, with his buddy Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) in tow (pun intended, thanks), McQueen jets off to scenic locations such as Tokyo, Paris and London, giving the animators a chance to go absolutely nuts with some of their most vivid work yet.

It’s just too bad the story in front of the landscape isn’t as winsome. Again, Cars 2 is cute, branching off into an espionage sub-plot with Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer providing the voices of British spy cars, Finn McMissle and Holley Shiftwell – but the proceedings don’t cruise along with that usual Pixar magic. Par for the course, the message is a pretty decent one … that you should accept friends as they are … but here, the bells and whistles overpower the moral.

Now, unless this studio proves otherwise, it’s pretty much impossible to dislike a Pixar movie — and Cars 2 is far from unlikeable, in fact kids will undoubtedly love it. But it is okay to be slightly disappointed … which, on this track, is new territory.

Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give Cars 2 a three. The feature is currently playing at the Pen-Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.

Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.