Now, Cars 2 has been subject to a lot of negative reviews (undeservedly I might add), however one area that all critics are agreed upon, is praise of the animation in Cars 2. Cars is a beautiful film, visually stunning and as well animated as ever from Pixar, that, to me, is the great thing about computer animation, it's always improving, the technology is always getting better; the improvement in the 5 year gap from Cars 1 to 2 is shocking. The reflection on the cars is sharper than before, the settings are vast and intricately detailed (on a side note, I was in awe of the fantastic level of detail of Car-ifying the settings, Big Bentley for example, was changed so subtly yet so brilliantly) and everything is just generally brilliant.
The animation throughout the entire film was fantastic, as it always is with Pixar, however the vibrant, iridescent colours and sparkles in the Tokyo scenes stood out in particular to me. The hectic beauty of the Japanese settings is amongst some of the best animation I've ever seen, the rest of the film's animation was outstanding but it was the Tokyo scenes that set the bar so high for the film. This all leads me to believe that changing the setting of the film for the sequel was a smart choice, particularly concerning visuals, as, despite the strength of the animation, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as impressive in the more underwhelming, dusty milieus of Radiator Springs.
However, many have claimed that the animation doesn't cover for the lackluster film produced, however, I believe the story and characters on display in Cars 2 more than match the animation.
Obviously, as this is a sequel, Cars 2 sees the return of all the characters we know from the first film - many in a more minor role - as Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and the Radiator Springs pit crew head off around the world for a race of champions, endorsing the alternative fuel, Allinol, called the World Grand Prix, seeing Lightning (now a 4 time Piston Cup winner) racing in Tokyo, Japan; Porto Corsa, Italy and London, England against similarly successful race cars Francesco Bernoulli and even Lewis Hamilton. However, this time around the focus is more on Mater, the rusty-but-trusty tow truck sidekick from the first film, as he is mistaken for an American spy and thrust into a massive conspiracy hanging over all of the races. However, there are a large amount of new characters introduced, including spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) and charismatic Itallian racer Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro), most of which are fairly intrical to the film and they are all brilliant for their starring roles. Finn McMissile is brilliantly cool, flocked with high tech gadgets, grappling hooks, machine guns and toting some serious Karate (or Carate if you will) skills. Adding to the character's amazing coolness is the voice, Michael Caine is a fantastic actor and is brilliant in his role, as what can only be described as James Bond in Car form - he's even an Aston Martin DB5. Holley Shiftwell, a desk agent who is thrust into field work, is decent enough, a bit bland as a character by Pixar standards, however she adds a good dynamic to the film with Mater. Emily Mortimer provides a decent enough voice for the character as well, a bit too cheesy at times and not always emotion imbued, however her quintessentially British accent and characteristics does a good job of translating the first ever Bond girl car onto the screen. Finally, in terms of new characters, Francesco Bernoulli is fantastic, cocky and charismatic and utterly hilarious.
The returning side characters are all jolted into more minor roles, but still get a decent enough chunk of the film and are all as funny as ever. I found Luigi and Guido particularly hilarious in Cars 2, and there was some decent enough growth of the relationship between Sarge and Filmore. It really says a lot about the creative level of Pixar that even their "weakest" characters can be so brilliantly portrayed and progressed in their "weakest" film.
The story, likewise, is strong, it's obviously far from Pixar's strongest story, nowhere near the emotional depth of Up or the moral strengths of WALL E, but it is fast paced, funny and surprisingly complex. The story, a complex spy film in every sense of the word (even featuring a lot of killings), is very unpandering, featuring as many twists, turns and stunts as the best Bond films. There is the argument that a lot of kids in the audience may not get the whole story arc, but they'll be decidedly entertained by the whole film; I certainly loved it.
The film is definitely one of the funniest Pixar films, featuring jokes satiring everything from Japanese TV to the Pope, nearly every joke drew big laughs from the whole cinema. However, one criticism that's fair is that this isn't Pixar's most emotional story, it's not really particularly moving - not to say it's vacant of heart and warmth, there's still some great and somewhat moving character moments throughout the film -, at times, the moral messages felt a bit forced, particularly towards the end; the film did have good morals and values on our use of Fossil Fuels and Oil, but it's far from Pixar's most moving film, however, it doesn't need to be. Pixar have created a very fun, very funny, very entertaining film, that, while not on the same level of Toy Story 3, is still better than a lot of lackluster animated films out there.
In terms of another criticism, granted, a small one, I'm shocked and a little confused as to how Cars 2 attained a U (G in America) rating, whereas Up was awarded a PG, I understand that they're cars, not humans, and there's no blood, but I'm also sure that explosions and Gatling guns are a bit more caution worthy than a walking stick shot to the head in Up.
The music of the film is, typically for Pixar, very strong and we have received another solid and catchy score from the great Michael Giacchino and a few good original songs as well, I particularly enjoyed Weezer's cover of You Might Think, it was insanely catchy.
So, to round this review off, don't listen to the criticism, Pixar still have never made a bad film, as Cars 2 is a great film, maybe not as emotional as others, but very fun. It suffers from comparison, like Cars 1, anyone going into Cars 2 expecting the emotional resonance or poignancy of Toy Story 3 or of Up is, simply put, an idiot. Enjoy Cars 2 for what it is, a rollicking, fast paced, enjoyable and genuinely great spy film that, if anything, marks a definitive improvement on the original. Pixar is too good to make a bad film and is too good to have its films suffer from such unnecessarily scathing reviews that Cars 2 has been received to.
If you like Pixar, you'll like Cars 2.
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the attached short film. The first Toy Story Toon, Hawaiian Vacation, in which the toys put together a makeshift holiday resort in Bonnie's room when Ken and Barbie fail to stow away in her backpack to go on holiday with her, was hilarious and very fun, as well as packing a lot of heart, and has actually got me a little bit more excited about the possibility of a Toy Story 4. Gary Rydstrom did a great job of directing the short.
I'd give Hawaiian Vacation a strong 10/10, it's worth the price of admission alone, unfortunately, however, the Brave trailer was not shown with my screening.