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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Cars 2

October 29th, 2011

Cars 2 - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack

For the first time ever, I'm not starting a review of Pixar film with the phrase, "And the Oscar goes to..." or something to that effect. Cars 2 is the first Pixar film not to with overwhelmingly positive reviews, snapping their record at eleven critically acclaimed films. On the one hand, it was unreasonable to assume the studio was going to keep up that streak forever and they were bound to make a bad film sooner or later. On the other hand, was this a case of unreasonable demands leading to a merely good film looking bad when compared to the rest of Pixar's output?

The Movie

The film begins on a boat in the middle of the ocean at night. Finn McMissle is on a secret mission, which takes him aboard an oil platform. However, he is unable to reach his contact and unable to figure out exactly what Professor Zundapp is up to before he's discovered and has to make a daring escape.

Back in Radiator Springs, Lightning McQueen is back after winning his fourth Winston Cup in a row and Mater is super excited to spend time with his best friend. But when Lightning wants to spend time with Sally, Mater is forced to spend his time in the bar watching TV with some of the guys. It's there he learns about Miles Axelrod, a billionaire entrepreneur. Recently Miles nearly died in an attempt to circumnavigate the world without using GPS when he ran out of fuel. Since then, he's sold off his oil industry and dedicated his life to finding an alternative fuel. Allinol. Now he's set up a global race to prove how amazing Allinol is and invited the best racers from around the world. This includes Lightning, but Lightning turned him down, because he wanted to reconnect with the good life in Radiator Falls. Francesco Bernoulli, one of the other racers, thinks Lightning is just scared. This enrages Mater so much, he calls the TV program to defend Lightning. After a short debate between the two, Lightning steps in and agrees to join the race. He even agrees to take Mater with him.

That previous paragraph has almost nothing to do with the plot. It's just a setup to get Mater out of Radiator Springs and in Tokyo, the first stop on the World Grand Prix, where he can meet Finn McMissle. Finn is still on the trail of Professor Zundapp and needs to figure out what his plan is and who he is working for. Finn is also in Tokyo looking to meet his an agent from the Tokyo station, Holly Shiftwell, who informs him an American agent has a photo of the car Professor Zundapp is working for. Finn can't go, because thugs, a Gremlin and a AMC Pacer, from the oil platform are there and he can't blow his cover. Holly has to go in his place. Before she can get to the American spy, the thugs get to him. As a desperate measure, he plants the information on Mater and Mater is mistaken for the spy. When Finn meets Mater, he knows no one can be this dumb naturally, so it must all be an act. Mater actually proves to be useful with his knowledge of lemons, they are a tow truck's bread and butter and no matter how many times he says he's not a spy, the British agents just think it's an act.

But dumb luck can save him forever, can't it?

Before we get to the review, I have a complaint to make about the accuracy of this movie. Zaporozhets are not lemons. They are peasant cars, like the Citro├źn. They are not built for performance, but to be cheap and to last, especially on poorly maintained roads. Yugos, Gremlins, Pacers, on the other hand, those were lemons.

This film earned a Tomatometer Score of just 38% positive, but I don't think that accurately reflects its quality. Its average score was 5.5 out of 10, less than a point off Dolphin Tale's average, but that film earned 83% positive reviews. Very few critics hated the movie, some liked it, but most merely thought it was okay, but not really worthy of a recommendation. I can see where they are coming from when you compare Cars 2 to the average Pixar film. It has a lot of action, but not a lot of heart. Sure there's the plot with Mater and Lightning having a falling out as best friends, but that felt strictly B-plot material to me. But compared to the average kids' movie, it's better than most. It's way better than Bee Movie and on par with Megamind.

Most of the movie was focused humor and action, usually at the same time, and when it does so, it's a lot more effective. It is certainly entertaining. The humor came from Mater's fish out of water routine, while the mistaken identity spy spoof provided plenty of action. In fact, there's a lot of action and not just the races. There are car chases through crowded streets, gun battles, numerous explosions, cars performing martial arts and more. There's so much action and violence that I'm a little surprised the film got a G-rating. It should please preteen boys and adults who can still remember playing with toy cars, as well as fans of Bond and other secret agents. But it is not a classic of the genre.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track with the two directors, John Lasseter and Brad Lewis. Lasseter dominates the track giving a huge amount of insight into the creation of the film. There are also two short films, Hawaiian Vacation and Air Mater. In the first film, Bonnie, the toys' new owner, is going on Christmas Vacation to Hawaii, and Ken planned to sneak Barbie and himself along for the ride. When that doesn't work, the other toys recreate Hawaii for him. The second short has Mater telling Lightning how he learnt to fly.

The Blu-ray has no additional extras, which is disappointing. On the other hand, and this should come as a surprise to no one, the film is reference material on Blu-ray. Both the audio and the video are flawless. Details, colors, saturation, contrast, black level, etc. You name it, it is perfect. The audio is is crystal clear with the surround sound speakers providing ambient sounds, directional effects, while the base gets a workout in the numerous action scenes. It does cost $8 more than the DVD, but it also comes with the DVD.

The 3D Combo pack does have additional extras, for those that have made the leap. I think it is unfair to do this, unless the extras include something that can't be done in 2D, as 3D is still a niche market. It does only cost $2 more, so it is a good deal.

Finally, there's the Cars Director's Edition, which is an 11-disc set that includes both movies and Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales. At $80, it's a lot to ask for, unless you really want the cool box.

The Verdict

Cars 2 is a good kids movie, but since people have come to expect a whole lot more from Pixar, it suffered when compared to expectations. It is the weakest film the studio has made, but still worth checking out for most, picking up for many. Neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray Combo Pack have a lot of extras, but the 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack only costs $2 more than the regular DVD, so that's a great deal if you are on the cutting edge of the latest home theater technology.

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Filed under: Video Review, Cars 2