Review: Cars 2

** (PG)

Director: John Lasseter & Brad Lewis.

Cast: (voices) Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro.

IT'S finally happened. Pixar's mythical run of great films is over.

Adding insult to injury is that it's come with a sequel that no one really wanted - Cars is generally regarded as a good film, but certainly the runt of the Pixar litter.

It's hard to know where to start with this movie. It's a sequel to Cars in as much as it's set in the same alternate reality (ie. a world of inhabited entirely by vehicles) and the main characters return in varying amounts.

That's where the similarity ends. Cars 2 is a James Bond homage that focuses on first film sidekick Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) as the accidental secret agent in an environmentally fueled tale of espionage, set against the backdrop of a tri-series car race that promotes a type of bio-diesel.

Meanwhile, some of the emotional themes fly in the face of the first film, in which NASCAR upstart Lightning McQueen is forced to slow his life down and adapt to the pace of rural life so as not to upset anyone (and learn some lessons about humility). Here the message is be yourself no matter what and don't change for anybody, even if you're being an ignorant laughing stock who's upsetting people (although there are some other lessons along the way but this is the main one).

Like an automobile, Cars 2 is cold and emotionless. It's also sadly humourless, unless your idea of a hilarious joke is "Japanese toilets are different to Western toilets" or wanting to see how far the film-makers can push the "cars do wacky human things" envelope.

With no heart to it, we're left with a so-so spy movie that bizarrely stars cars, in particular Mater. A decent sidekick and comic relief character in the first film, he becomes almost painful to endure as a lead, although the film does improve as he eventually comes into his own.

As you would expect with Pixar, Cars 2 looks spectacular, and there are some interesting ideas, such as the environmental theme and elements of the espionage parody, plus the ending is strong.

But overall it feels like three different movies welded together or - worst of all - that Pixar is running out of ideas. Even the pre-film short is a return visit from the Toy Story team (albeit a welcome comeback).

However, the presence of Woody and Buzz just serves to remind you of how good Pixar sequels can be, and how disappointing this one is.

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