Cars 2 [Blu-Ray]

Cars is my least favorite Pixar movie. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not particularly exciting and follows the whole “fish out of water learning what’s important” storyline that has been done to death. Of course, despite being pretty average, Cars is miles and miles better than Cars 2. Money and toys. I don’t give a crap what director John Lasseter says about the reasons for making Cars 2, the sequel to Pixar’s least impressive animated film, 2006’s Cars. The real reason is money and toys. Kids love to buy the Cars line of toys, and it puts billions into the Disney/Pixar coffers (including Lasseter’s). I’m not against them making a buck for their hard work, but let’s not pretend this movie exists to tell some great story or teach everyone an important moral lesson. It exists to give pre-teen boys more reasons to buy toys.

Ignoring adults completely this time -- since most of them were underwhelmed by Cars -- Lasseter, co-director Brad Lewis, and writer Ben Queen just go straight for entertaining eight-year-old boys. They yank the two leads from Cars, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), out of their hometown of Radiator Springs and its idyllic Route 66 environs, and leave most of the supporting characters behind for four-fifths of the movie. Instead, there is a world-wide race sponsored by the maker of a bio-fuel called Allinol that McQueen will race in against a new rival, Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro).

Because races in Tokyo, Italy, and London might not be enough excitement and action for your fourth-grade son, Mater is accidentally mistaken for an American secret agent by British agents Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) and Finn McMissile (Michael Cain). That doesn’t seem very likely, but neither does the way in which cars can suddenly drive on rooftops or escape from being tied up with ropes. Or, for that matter, being tied up with ropes in the first place, since there are no hands evident. That’s not the point, though; the point is that Mater and McQueen are best buddies and something comes between them and there is tons of action and stuff gets blowed up and in the end the plot is foiled and Mater and McQueen each learn a valuable lesson.

Pixar are the champions of “story is everything,” but this is the most juvenile story in their arsenal. The animation is up to snuff, and it’s not like there aren't some exciting and funny scenes sprinkled about. Turturro is pretty hilarious, and Mortimer and Cain are good as secret agents, but Wilson has been relegated to almost a non-entity for the most of the film and everything rests on Larry the Cable Guy. I’ll just let that speak for itself.

If this movie wasn’t directed by Lasseter and released by Pixar, I might not be so harsh. After all, it’s an inoffensive action/comedy for kids. It’s a kid’s movie and is probably higher quality in that sense than most of what they get. But held up to the Pixar standard, it fails miserably. The Cars 2 Blu-ray is a strong release in terms of audio and visual aspects, but it is meager in terms of extras. Much like the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides release, if you want all the behind-the-scenes goodies, you have to get the 3D Blu-ray. While that release is packed with featurettes, the 2D version has almost none, just the commentary track and two animated shorts. It’s pretty disappointing.

The best thing about this release is the picture and sound. They are amazing and the animation is up to Pixar standards. They really keep getting better and better, and as the movie is mostly action, it’s just stunning to watch at times. The audio is also excellent, with tons of car-race noises, and Michael Giacchino’s score worth hearing.

The commentary, by director Lasseter and co-director Lewis, is…interesting. They aren’t in the same room, so they don’t play off each other’s memories at all. While Lewis sounds like he’s talking casually as he watches the film, Lasseter sounds like he’s saying things that are rehearsed (or written) and he might not even be watching the film at the same time. Also, Lasseter must have a contractual obligation to say the name of the movie at least 50 times. He never says “the movie”; he always says “Cars 2,” even when it sounds awkward. As in “Denise Ream, the producer of Cars 2, said…” On the plus side, there aren't any long silences as you sometimes get in commentaries. One or the other of them talks every single second. At some points, Lasseter just rehashes the plot, but he does give a few behind-the-scenes nuggets and his enthusiasm for the picture is touching, if misplaced.

Other than the commentary there are only two shorts. Hawaiian Vacation features the characters from Toy Story and played before the theatrical release of the movie. It’s like most Pixar shorts: great. The other is Air Mater, which sorta sucks.

Not even taking into account that the 3D version is much better in terms of extras, this is just not a great movie. Other than the visual thrills, it’s not worth adding to your collection. That said, if you have a young boy who is a Cars fan, then he will love this film, and this is a good presentation for someone who isn’t that interested in “making-of” extras.

The set also includes a DVD copy of the film.