movie review: CARS 2

I have such high regard for Pixar and its creative team, led by John Lasseter, that it actually hurts to knock one of their movies—something I’ve never done before. But then, I’ve never gotten a headache watching any of their previous films. Despite

having beaten the sequel curse by making Toy Story 2 and 3, I’m afraid the studio has succumbed with its latest offering, Cars 2.

Let’s begin with what is normally the studio’s bedrock of strength, storytelling. Because there is no “leftover” story to tell from the original Cars, this one leaves the town of Radiator Springs and most of its denizens behind, choosing to go globetrotting as Lightning McQueen participates in a series of—

—Grand Prix races overseas. He’s goaded into this by his good buddy, Tow Mater the tow truck, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, and therein lies my biggest problem. I’d rather listen to chalk on a blackboard than spend nearly two hours with Tow Mater, who is in fact the leading character in Cars 2.

Even that sorry fate might be ameliorated if there were a solid story to hang onto, but there isn’t. In fact, the narrative of Cars 2 is so cluttered and confusing it’s actually hard to follow, right up to the end. Is it about a bad guy who wants to put gas-powered cars out of business, or a good guy who wants to introduce clean-energy vehicles, or a pair of spies who are trying to catch one or the other, or something else altogether? (I did get the message about friendship and loyalty.) I’d hate to be a parent of a child, trying to answer his or her questions about what’s going on every few minutes.

On the other hand, if your kid loves watching cars race around tracks really fast, or has a short attention span, Cars 2 may be just the ticket. It never stops moving; you just don’t know where it’s moving, or why.

Cars 2 opens with a sequence that parodies James Bond movies, featuring a slick sports car voiced by Michael Caine. That’s good for a smile, but it wears thin as the movie goes on and on; worst of all, it’s unclear whether the Caine character and his compatriot, voiced by Emily Mortimer, are good guys or villains.

Naturally, the animation is first-rate and the various settings are pleasing to the eye—although it’s a bit odd to see the cars outside of their own universe in man-made world capitals. There are punny moments of dialogue and sight-gags to match, but they exist in a vacuum without a story that’s clear and characters who matter. The fact that the film takes nearly two hours to unfold doesn’t help.

At a time when other studios have mastered the art of CG animation, Pixar should play to its strengths, and this movie doesn’t. What a shame.

Am I being too hard on a movie that’s out to entertain kids? If I am, it’s only because Pixar itself has set the bar so high in this field.


  1. Charles says:

    I didn't like this movie, nor the first "Cars." But I wasted $8 not to see a coherent story (the movie is obviously geared to juvenile tastes), but some cool animatography and an attempt by Pixar to accurately portray automobiles and trucks the way they look in real life. My only objection to hearing Mater's rants throughout the entire movie is that I know people who are really like that. You see, I live in the back hills of Tennessee in an area that is supposedly Beverly Hillbillies' hometown. A handfull of them are still like that lot that moved to Beverly (Hills, that is).

  2. Patrick M. Gouin says:

    I really liked the first installment, notably Paul Newman’s performance. In Cars 2, Paul (Doc Hudson Hornet) Newman is gone but a nice homage is given early on in the film. Lots of action. Michael Caine as Finn McMissile, a 1964 Astin Martin secret agent, is particularly amusing. But miss the evolving romance between Lightning and Sally Carrera, the lovely Porsche. The story can be too complicated for the younger children to understand. It helps to be into cars to fully appreciate this film. 7/10

  3. James West says:

    Thanks for the heads up and HONEST takes Leonard . You one of the few remaining film critics who can eloquently and succinctly take a film to task in a statesman like manner…….Love your blog my friend……Blimjo

  4. RF says:

    I am not a fan of Larry the Cable guy so I would find two hours of his voice to be about 1hr 59-1/2 minutes too long. But … as for whether your being too hard on Cars 2/Pixar. Does it really matter? The box office revenue doesn’t seem to reflect your opinion so it’s Pixar who gets the last laugh, all the way to the bank.

  5. Brent says:

    I agree with somet of your critiques, but I don’t get the bit about the story being hard to follow. You say you thought Finn (Michael Caine) and Holley (Emily Mortimer) were possibly villains? When was that ever implied? I even predicted the “surprise twist” of who the criminal mastermind really was. (Which was thoroughly explained in the end). Then again, I never understood why critics always say “Back to the Future II” is hard to follow either.

  6. Grant says:

    WOW! Is there a conspiracy against John Lasseter and the rest of the Cars 2 team?

    Why are so many reviewers slamming this movie? Did they get together and bet to see who could write the most assinine review?

    I thought if I sought out a reputable movie reviewer, I would read an option or review closer to what we experienced when we saw Cars 2. Could have we missed something that the reviewers caught?

    Or worse, could have the movie reviewers completely missed the boat?

    Over the years, we’ve learned to distrust movie reviews because they are too reviewer-biased. Maybe that is the occupational hazard – their reviews are not and cannot be objective. It’s almost like they review just to hear their own voice.

    Never have I felt so offended, on someones’ behalf, than I do with the reviews this wonderful movie is receiving.

    Really? Leonard. Why even review a movie if you already hate it without seeing it. How misleading is that? Where’s your intergrity? There should be some code of conduct to avoid biased reviews. If you don’t get it, or have already made up your mind – DON’T REVIEW THE MOVIE!

    How many kids are going to miss seeing this movie in the theatre because of your review?

    How many parents are going suggest they see the movie on BluRay or DVD so they can save a few bucks by not going the theatre so they can avoid seeing a so-called ‘bad’ movie?

    How could you not follow the storyline and imply other won’t either? Are you saying people are dumbed down so much that they can’t follow a minor twist in plot. What was not to follow?

    Really? Finn & Holly were potential bad guys? Really?

    The only complaint I have about this movie – and just about any other ‘family’ or children’s movie – is the length. Or more accurately, the lack of consideration for a young person’s small bladder.

    Should consideration be taken for the re-introduction of intermissions?

    Even with my 3-year-old son’s need for two potty breaks, both he and I could still follow the plot (ah, yes he could) and we both thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

    AND…we approached this move with high expectations that were met! We repeatedly watched the trailers on the Disney website and yes, I purchased some more die cast cars for him. He brought Finn and McQueen to the theatre.

    Leonard, how many kids have you denied this experience?

    Honestly, think before you write again.

  7. Rick Goldschmidt says:

    I reviewed the film after seeing it today in 3d…. just about 15 minutes ago on my RANKIN/BASS blog. I hadn’t read your review until after I wrote my own…in fact, I read no one else’s opinion before writing mine. Your’s matches mine on almost every single point 🙂 I am glad to see I wasn’t the only one to see this film…this way. I think the audience I sat with also was aware. I am still scratching my head at what went wrong at PIXAR with this?

  8. Tracy Wylie says:

    Dear Leonard,
    I feel very sorry to say this but I think most critics missed the boat by a mile on this one (and perhaps also on last week’s “Green Lantern”). Whether ‘Cars 2’ is a good or bad movie is definitely a matter of opinion, and the response will vary depending on one’s age and predisposition to watch this. I can certainly say I really enjoyed it just as much as every other Pixar movie that has come out.
    Does the plot actually require that one THINK about it for a bit? Yes, perhaps, but I don’t see why that is bad, even in a movie that’s largely children-friendly. Perhaps that is part of the point of the movie, in that it parodies the sometimes complicated plots of movies like those of Jason Bourne and James Bond.
    For me, this is my favorite movie of the summer so far, followed very closely by Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, Warner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, and “Green Lantern”.

    By the way, I think it is very TELLING how few critics have actually been able to comment on the references in “Cars 2” to the TV-made “Mater’s Tall Tales”. It’s not like they aren’t available on DVD & blu-ray. And having watched those, it makes a few things in the movie much more enjoyable. I assume those animated shorts have been wildly popular with kids, as well – though I enjoyed them quite a bit as an animation fan who has no children.

  9. Chris says:


    Soulless describes this movie and the word is “utter”, unless you truly were talking about milking a cow.

  10. mike schlesinger says:

    Leonard and I are about the same age, and I’m sure he’d agree that when we were young’uns, movies entertained kids and adults alike. Disney features, be they animated like 101 DALMATIANS or live-action like DARBY O’GILL, are just as much fun for us now as they were back then. Too often these days “family films” are targeted to kids but send the grown-ups out in the lobby for a smoke (metaphorically, of course). Pixar seemed to be the one studio that still could entertain all ages. I haven’t seen CARS 2 yet and so won’t comment on it directly, but the fact the the only annoying character from the first film (the Jar Jar comparison is not inapt) has been promoted to the lead role here does not bode well for those of us who can tie our shoes on our own.

  11. haverchuck says:

    I find it very interesting that all of the posts that I’ve read disagreeing with negative reviews of Cars 2 are made by adults who have a tenuous grasp on spelling, sentence construction & creating coherent arguments.

  12. Alison says:

    Agreed, agreed, and sad to be agreeing, because I love Pixar’s movies. The 6-year-old son was not exactly pumped up by it either. Too much Mater. Too little story.

  13. Rob in Toronto says:

    JAM1993 seems to be confused on the definition of ‘poorly written’ . Leonard’s review is grammatically correct and clearly and concisely expresses why he didn’t like the film.

  14. JBEAM says:

    It’s an udder disappointment, JAM1993?

    So it disappointed your cows?

    I love all the people that haven’t yet seen the film saying Maltin is closed-minded. You guys are the ones unwilling to accept that it may be bad. Cars, sorry to say, was terrible, with Larry the Cable Guy’s scenes being the worst part. This, to me, couldn’t possibly be an improvement, but I’ll find out eventually.

  15. jamarmiller says:

    I am sorry but any critic that does not see this movie WITH THEIR SON OR GRANDSON (who is anywhere from 3-7) really has missed the point and have no clue or opinion that is worth anything about this movie.

    Go see it with that 3-7 year old and then watch the magic

    Toy story is great, its the movie I pick, but my little boy, 7 out of 10 times he chooses CARS and he loves this movie.

  16. nshepard says:

    Honest , review about political correctness. Maybe good and bad are blurred, but the disticntion is clear, when the system doesn’t work for you, it isn’t good.

  17. tickbite says:

    Hm, I don’t know but I can’t help but feel it’s a good thing if the good and bad guys are not immediately recognized as such. “Worst of all” seems to be the wrong expression to use there; only if you expect a movie to be predictable and merely entertaining …

  18. JAM1993 says:

    I hate to say it, but I think I’ve lost all respect for Leonard Maltin. No, not just because he brutally slammed a Pixar movie, but because he brutally slammed a Pixar movie in such a close-minded way. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I’m honestly disappointed with this review; he could’ve found something more possitive to say about the movie (and I know he could’ve… it’s Pixar after all). Really, I never thought I’d read such a poorly-written, narrow-minded review from Leonard Maltin. This is an udder disappointment. I’m going by Roger Ebert and Peter Travers’ reviews of Cars 2, because they’re reviews are more open-minded and human. This review… is just so soulless. Sorry Mr. Maltin, but I can’t take your word seriously for this one… at all.

  19. MC says:

    An interesting interview. Perhaps the ultimate question should be: Why does this movie exist? It’s pretty clear that it’s to sell merchandise, because as you point out there’s no natural narrative hook for this from the first film.

    And I agree – two hours with Mater sounds like a one-way ticket to Jar Jar town.

  20. krabklaw says:

    OK- first he says the movie is a failure because of the story- telling, but then he immediately confesses that he hates Lary the Cable Guy. And I was never in doubt that the Caine charater and his assistant were the good guys. I can’t believe the unwarranted critical drubbing this movie has gotten.

  21. ... says:

    kids aren’t exactly flocking to every review for a second opinion as they already made their minds up to watch this regardless of what critics say. Of course you knew that already.

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