Perhaps the “Cars” franchise is so inexorably tied to Paul Newman that it should have been part of Newman’s Own. Newman’s Doc Hudson was Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen’s mentor in Radiator Springs, and his passing has left a big emotional hole in Carburetor County that cannot be filled. Instead, there’s lots of sound and fury, signifying very little.
The plot revolves around the friendship between the racecar McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and a battered, buck-toothed tow-truck named Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) who travel to Tokyo, Paris and London to compete in the inaugural World Grand Prix after a taunting challenge from Italian Formula One Speedster Francesco Bernoulli (voiced by John Turturro). En route, they’re intercepted by a debonair, James Bond-inspired Aston Martin, Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine), and his assistant Holly Shiftwell (voiced by Emily Mortimer), who mistakenly think Mater is their American agent contact. Meanwhile, there’s an environmental subplot involving an eccentric oil billionaire, Sir Miles Axlerod (voiced by Eddie Izzard), who has invented a new alternative fuel called Allinol.
Written by Ben Queen and directed by Pixar CEO John Lasseter, this sensory-overloaded sequel revs up to a confusing, high-octane frenzy, never forging any emotional connection with the audience. Not that the kids seem to care that it’s stuck in neutral. They enjoy the cleverly-caricatured talking cars and video arcade-like speedway crashes. Perhaps their parents will appreciate details like Notre Dame’s “car-goyles” and London’s Big Ben clock refitted as “Big Bentley.” But paying extra for 3-D is quite unnecessary.
At a cost of $200 million, this ‘toon has the potential to do bigger merchandising business abroad than its predecessor, along with plans to open a 12-acre Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure Park.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Cars 2” accelerates to a spy-driven 6. Far more inventive is “Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation,” a delightful accompanying short in which the familiar toys console Barbie and Ken when they’re left behind after Bonnie goes to Hawaii. My advice? Keep the short – can the feature.