Pixar Studios maintain a stellar track record — 12 good movies, no bad, and at least three genuine masterpieces in just over a decade and a half — with this eye hurtingly colourful sequel to 2006’s Cars, the merch friendly romp that imagined a world entirely populated by talking vehicles.

Don’t believe the killjoy critics who claim Cars 2 provides proof that Pixar’s midas touch moviemakers have finally produced a sum of parts worthy of the scrapyard. While certainly the studio’s most expendable venture yet, directors John Lasseter and Brad Lewis have nevertheless fashioned another hour and a half of high quality all ages animation.

To give this new installment in the adventures of red racing champ Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) a fresh coat of paint the screenwriters have reconfigured its narrative chassis to take on a 007-esque spy story.

McQueen decides to enter a new world tournament to take on a smug and sleek Italian race car (John Turtorro) after his best bud Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), a buck-tooth bozo tow truck, talks up his cred. McQueen takes his slow-witted pal with him to see the sights of the world.

Mater, a veritable gaffe and faux pas machine, confuses wasabi for pistachio ice cream and one toilet run later becomes unwittingly embroiled in a high level plot to eliminate the future of alternative fuel. Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer provide the voices of two suped-up British secret agents who mistake his dumbness for an elaborate cover.

It takes a certain chutzpah to pull off a meaningful commentary on the lengths to which vested interests will go to restrict the progress of eco-friendly energy in a movie populated by heavy polluting contraptions, but chalk that down as Car 2’s crowning achievement. Lasseter and Lewis package a neat message about politically motivated resistance to change.

But the kids will probably be preoccupied by the pretty colours and they ought to be, given every frame in the film took an average of 13 hours to complete. As expected in sequel land, the directors up the ante in terms of action and SFX and the international locations in Cars 2 — particularly Tokyo, Italy and England — present bright, rich, spit-polished depictions of set and setting.

The spy caper story line could have played like a flimsy attempt to stretch the story into something, anything, suitable for a sequel, in the same way that Paul Hogan visited LA in the final Crocodile Dundee movie and Marty and the Doc went to the American West in Back to the Future 3. However, the Bond-like plot points in Cars 2 actually outdo at least a handful of 007 movies. Embarrassing, perhaps, that characters that look like they belong in Happy Meal boxes can summon more excitement than the cast of The World is Not Enough (1999).

Mater’s goofy presence as a central character is a little grating sometimes, the dumb yokel voice and mannerisms a tad harsh on the palate, but the kooky supporting cast help keep the story’s wheels spinning and the end result is another well-oiled Pixar crowd pleaser.

Car 2’s Australian theatrical release date: June 23, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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