I asked Aari Ludvigsen, one of our most trusted go-to testers, to give me her take on the sequel Cars 2. Her 4 year old is right in the Cars 2 zone– taken with the original story line and all the merchandise that goes with it!
Here’s her thoughtful review:
For many children, boys & girls alike, Pixar’s 2006 movie “Cars” is the perfect first movie. A simple story about learning that friendship is more important than winning, there are no dead parents to set the story in motion, and the only violence is the mildly alarming scene where the protagonist loses control & wrecks the road in Radiator Springs. On the parental alarm meter, there is only some intentional bumping into other cars by the mean-spirited car (who would want to be a mean bumper like Chick Hicks?), some scenes of mild flirtation, and one slightly sexist speech by the yet unreformed McQueen. The soundtrack is fantastic, a gift to the parents who find it on permanent play in their car. It is the also the greatest merchandising vehicle in the history of the world.
Cars 2 is the kind of watered-down sequel reminiscent of pre-Toy Story days, when you knew a sequel was just a chance to visit with old friends but not to experience new magic. It is long, complicated, and built on scenes of shame, revenge, teasing, and attempts to “kill” cars. The bad guys are lemon cars that are seeking revenge on the rightly more-revered engineering marvels. There is a complicated spy plot which gives Mater a lot to do, and gives the animators a chance quote James Bond to the adults.
The actual plot is too complicated to explain here, and involves oil greed vs green fuel, sort of, and since it confuses some adults, is unlikely to be followable by anyone under 10. The clearest theme is that the bad guys try to blow up racers by using a disguised TV camera to cause their fuel to explode. There are multiple scenes of the bad guys trying to capture & kill Finn McMissle, the Michael Cain-voiced Bond character, and Finn getting to use terrific spy gear to escape, and plenty of scenes of cars in danger in ways kids won’t comprehend. They may or may not understand that Mater is ashamed (there’s even a flashback to all the humiliating things he’s done), and that he’s drooling over the naieve spy operative Holly Shiftwell.
The overall message is again that friendship is important, and that you should apologize to your friends, and that yelling at them makes them sad. Also that you can’t judge a book by its cover: although Mater is totally laughed at and an embarrassment and you can’t take him anywhere, he saves the day and is knighted in the end. But he finds out that he’s an inferior idiot, or at least that he’s seen that way by others, which certainly dampens the viewer’s enjoyment of this deliciously innocent, unselfconscious hick character that was created in Cars, and developed in the delightful & clever Tall Tales series.
The bad guy cars also feel bad about themselves (hence the root of their evil) and that’s not redeemable because they’re a band of truly-laughable engineering failures.
The movie is a wonderful chance to travel the world, with tremendously lovingly detailed vehicle-versions of Tokyo, a lovely made-up Italian sea town “Porto Corsa,” and London. There are race cars from multiple nations that you can find on a map with your kids, collecting them & talking about the country they’re from rather than the fake sponsor written on their hood (as with the original Cars collectible).
The original Cars is my almost 5 year old’s go-to entertainment for comfort & familiarity, and after repeated viewings I can say it is a smart, thoughtful movie. Even though it starts off with a NASCAR parody, it never feels like boys rule the world. Once Lightning leaves the competitive track environment, there are strong female characters — Sally the lawyer, Flo who runs the gas station, Lizzie the town’s founder — and they are not more purple or pretty or dumb than their cohorts, they are equal citizens of this better world Lightning finds himself in & slowly learns to love. But Cars 2 feels like Boystown. All male macho racers, except for one sleek sparkly pink & purple girl racer; male spies, except for purple Holly who’s only a desk spy, and unsure of what to do in dangerous situations. Sally is not important here except for the fact that she thinks her boyfriend’s rival is good looking. And that rival, Francesco, is a macho blustering Italian bully, (complete with a stereotype Italian mother car with a headscarf), who relentlessly teases McQueen and draws him into hotheaded decisions. In Cars, most of the characters were flawed & a bit laughable, but lovable, redeemable, and big-hearted, and smarter than they first appeared to be. Here, not so much. There is one heartwarming scene at the end when the old friends from Radiator Springs team up to fight the bad guys, and it turns out their ordinary tools & skills, and passion for their friends, is as effective as spy gear, but it only shines a light of contrast on the lack of moral compass of the rest of the film.