Review in a Hurry: This souped-up sequel kicks it into high gear with new characters, slick animation and a global espionage caper. Though not the winningest Pixar entry ever, Cars 2 should still pull ahead of box-office competitors and thrill young racing fans with high-octane action.
The Bigger Picture: Trading in the small-town setting and Doc Hollywood formula of the original, Cars 2 pimps out its ride with an international, James Bond-esque makeover. The film's exotic locales allow for some impressive visuals and set pieces, but the convoluted spy storyline might leave little ones in the dust.
Racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his tow-truck buddy Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) head overseas when McQueen accepts a challenge to compete in the World Grand Prix. The high-profile face-off involves multiple showdowns on the raceways of Japan, Italy, France and England.
Their plans take a detour when Mater is mistakenly ensnared in a top-secret mission headed by English spy Finn McMissile (go-to Brit actor Michael Caine) and rookie agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). McQueen and Mater's friendship gets tested during the ensuing carfuffle, and they have to band together to solve a nefarious car-killing conspiracy before the final finish line.
For the most part, Cars 2 shifts smoothly between action and humor and gets comedic mileage from Mater's fish-outta-water antics. One notably funny bit involves his wasabi fail and a confused visit to a bathroom stall with bidet.
Pixar's animation hits top speed, of course, especially in the dazzling Tokyo sequences, as neon signage reflects off the multicolored racecars and rain-soaked streets. In addition to the eye candy, exciting underwater pursuits and nifty spy gadgets should keep kids on the edge of their car seats.
But like many other sequels that over-throttle, Cars 2 nearly veers off track with its packed narrative. A plotline involving alternative fuel gets needlessly complex, and the warm-fuzzy just-be-yourself message is well-worn and wedged in.
Still, Cars 2 is worth the trip, even if you don't need to zoom-zoom to theaters on opening weekend.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Some folks might be offended by the cultural stereotypes, which include evil German autos that capture and gas Mater. Holy heil!