I remember reading the reviews for Cars 2 when it first came out and I was surprised to see that they were so mixed. Pixar movies have a tendency to be critical darlings so the fact that this one wasn’t made me very curious. So when I had the chance to watch it, I think I found out why this was the case.
Don’t get me wrong, Cars 2, isn’t a bad movie, but it probably isn’t the sequel to Cars that anyone was expecting. Cars is a movie focused on character development. Namely the development of Lightning McQueen from an arrogant, self-centered, talented, but lonely racecar to a racecar that is able to make friends, focus on other cars beyond himself, and able to understand the somewhat cliché idea that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that is important.
This kind of focus isn’t unique to Cars and is in fact where most of Pixar’s movies focus. They tend to be more character focused than plot focused, and are much better because of that. This isn’t to say that there are not plots in Pixar movies, but that they are simply the vehicle to see the character or characters develop. Cars focuses on Lightning’s quest to win the Piston Cup, but really the focus is more on Lightning than it is the end goal.
With Cars 2 however, this changes. Cars 2 is instead mostly focused on plot rather than the characters. It starts off with secret agent Finn McMissle uncovering some sort of plot involving a television camera. What the plot is, who is behind it, and how to stop it is the real focus of the movie and the characters are still there, but are clearly not the main focus. Due to this Cars 2 has a lot more action in it than Cars, which is fine, but it is quite the jarring change. You go from a movie that has very little action besides racing to a movie that is full of guns, fights, and explosions.
I should mention that they do try to add a moral or character focused element to the story, but I feel that it winds up being so flat that they would have been better to not to try. The basic gist was that we should accept our friends for who they are, and not expect them to be anyone different. This message focuses on Mater, but some of the things that Mater does are so over the top that it isn’t a matter of Mater not being who he is, but more about being aware of his surroundings. In my opinion it doesn’t work as any sort of character development or moral, but is more of a plot device to get McQueen and Mater separated to allow Mater to globe trot with the spies.
All this doesn’t make Cars 2 a bad movie, but it just makes it a different movie than Cars. I enjoyed Cars 2, but it was really even hard to compare it to Cars because they were so different that a legitimate comparison seemed hard to make. If you want a kids movie that plays out like a James Bond movie, than Cars 2 will fit your craving. If you’re wanting a character driven movie that tends to be the hallmark of Pixar movies, than you are looking in the wrong place.