Lightning McQueen is off to Tokyo to compete in the World Gran Prix with best bud Tow Mater in tow. But when Mater accidentally gets mixed up in an international spy caper, well, it's safe to say he's not in Radiator Springs anymore.
The name's McMissile. Finn McMissile.
In a world populated by living, breathing cars, this suave British Aston Martin is grill and fenders above the rest. He's on one of the biggest cases of his top secret spy career. And it's kept him busy zigging, zagging and outgunning the minions of the mysterious, monocled Professor Z. (Of course, they were only Gremlins and Pacers, so what chance did they have?) Next stop: Tokyo.
Meanwhile, an old friend of ours is headed to the Far East as well. Four-time Piston Cup winner Lightning McQueen has been invited to compete in the World Grand Prix against the arrogant Italian Formula Racer champion Francesco Bernoulli. It's a special three-country touring race starting in Tokyo and sponsored by an alternate-fuel mogul. And being the friendly guy he is, Lightning invites his best buddy, Mater, the buck-toothed tow truck from Radiator Springs, to tag along.
The big Japanese city, however, is really no place for a small-town rustbucket like Mater. Besides embarrassing Lightning to no end with his silly antics, the goofy tow truck is mistaken by McMissile as his American spy contact. The British roadster thinks Mater's down-home persona is nothing more than a well-oiled front. And a brilliant one, no less.
So while Lightning is busy with the race, Mater finds himself towed into the middle of an international conspiracy to sabotage the big event. He cluelessly putters along, dishing out his drawling, homespun wisdom here and there.
But as the nefarious plot to destroy every racer on the track (including Lighting) begins to play out, it turns out that only one character can possibly save the day: Mater. Tow Mater.
Although McQueen defends his pal against a rival's insults early on, Lightning and Mater have something of a falling out during the first race because of Mater's seemingly brainless actions. Mater feels useless, and Lightning soon realizes that he was wrong for yelling, that he shouldn't try to change his friend. He apologizes and says that the things that made them friends in the first place are the things that make Mater such a sincere and likable guy. Later, Lightning trusts another friend's judgment because he doesn't want to repeat his mistake with Mater.
An older Italian man reinforces that sentiment, saying, "Fighting is OK. But you gotta make up fast. No fight is more important than friendship." Someone else chimes in, "Whoever finds a friend, finds a treasure."
Rather than have his dents smoothed out, Mater elects to keep the imperfections because each reminds him of an event from his past, many of which he shared with Lightning. Later in the film, another dented car is inspired to follow his lead. The message is clear: The bumps and bruises of life make us who we are, and it’s better to embrace them than wish them away.
When called into action by the British spies, Mater repeatedly tells them, "But I'm just a tow truck." Still, Mater rises to the occasion, demonstrating that courage, honesty and availability are more important than formal training or a fancy title. In fact, it's Mater's intellect and experience with the inner workings of automobiles that ultimately saves the day—not bad for a rustbucket others considered simple and naive. In fact, McMissile eventually says that Mater is one of the "smartest and most honest chaps we've ever met."
As Mater tows a clunker who has a habit of breaking down, the needy vehicle tells his rescuer, "You're the only one who's nice to lemons like me." Later, Mater gets a chance to tell other "lemons" to be proud of who they are. Indeed, not everyone can be a fancy race car or a tricked-out spy vehicle, and those made for different purposes should simply be themselves.
Finally, Mater puts his life on the line to save Lightning and foil the plot's dastardly architect. Near the end of the film, many of Mater's friends from Radiator Springs come to his aid.
In Italy, we see the papal-hatted Popemobile riding inside his … Popemobile.
Mater gets stars in his eyes and butterflies in his carburetor when he mistakes the spy-motivated conversation of Finn McMissile's swoopy sidekick, Holly Shiftwell, as romantic interest. Indeed, he's quite taken with her "purty" sheet metal. There are references to a female car needing coolant after she gets an eyeful of the fenderless Francesco, who, we come to realize, has enjoyed the company of quite a few female cars along the road. Two vehicles roll grill to grill for a metallic smooch.
Cars are outfitted with machine guns, rockets and other spy-weapon paraphernalia, resulting in numerous bullet-riddled and explosion-peppered chase scenes. Cars frequently crash and smash into the scenery and often crumble on impact. One spy, for instance, gets killed, and his body shows up as a cube of crushed metal.
In what's easily the film's most suggestively disturbing scene, a vehicle is tortured as his engine is revved and his internal fluids are slowly set to boiling. The victim begins smoking and reacting in pain and eventually blows up (offscreen). Elsewhere, some racers get nailed by an electromagnetic pulse that causes them to crash and their engines to erupt in flames, resulting in a multicar pileup.
When Mater gets cornered and captured by the bad guys, they use knock-out gas to subdue him. Mater, McMissile and Holly are bound to a giant mechanism set to crush them. Later, Mater realizes he has a ticking time bomb strapped to his engine. Holly shocks a car with an electrode gun.
Crude or Profane Language
Mater is quite fond of saying "dadgum" and "gee." He also repeatedly mentions his propensity to "screw things up." Put downs include "idiot" and "jerk!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cars in a club are served cocktail glasses full of iced oil. Mater chugs someone else's drink, then balks at the taste and spits it back in the glass.
Other Negative Elements
Mater has several exaggerated and unpleasant water-spraying encounters with a Japanese toilet. An embarrassing public oil leak stands in for leaking bodily fluid. A speeding car splash-lands in the brown goop of an airport Lavatory Services tanker truck. Mater gobbles a plate of wasabi, which leads to a series of obnoxious outbursts as he overreacts to the famously fiery food. Mater backfires in flatulent fashion, then pardons himself and blames his recent diet.
Cars gamble at a Riviera hotel casino.
When Cars drove onscreen in 2006, it captured the nostalgic, small-town essence of a bygone America along Route 66. It was a sweet reminder—from its sentimental soundtrack to its charmingly humanized clunkers—that we shouldn't speed too quickly past the precious things of life. It proved that even with anthropomorphized hunks of steel and rubber, Pixar could still hammer out an emotionally involving tale.
Those themes aren't much in evidence this time around. Instead, Cars 2 shifts gears and amps up the action in a decidedly more cosmopolitan, world-hopping homage to classic spy movie motifs. And some of those new twists and turns force families to bounce over a few potholes.
For one thing, the secret-agent, fender-crumpling, crash-boom additions to the Cars universe import some violent imagery that goes too far for this reviewer, most notably the torture scene that ends in an unfortunate car's pain ... and death. Now, given the film's animated nature, some might suggest I'm making too much of that scene. But when you give an inanimate object a face and then make its innards painfully boil and smoke, that's pretty problematic stuff in a film intentionally aimed at very young audiences.
Speaking of kids, I'm sure plenty of them will cotton to Tow Mater's nonstop, over-the-top, slapstick antics. But do you want them to? Beyond his hillbilly bumpkin shtick starting to feel gratingly one-dimensional in this sequel, he opens the door for more toilet humor than your typical Pixar pic—or even this film's predecessor, for that matter. It's a lowbrow streak that makes it a little difficult to warm up to the movie's overarching "love your friends for who they are" message. (And some adults might be put off by the filmmakers' obvious attempt to vilify "big oil" and stump for alternative energy sources.)
There's still a lot to appreciate here, of course. The animation sparkles with typical Pixar pride and precision. Car-lingo one-liners once again cater to the racing crowd, while gentle world-culture lampooning is cute and plentiful. Solid examples of honesty, sincerity and committed friendship are on frequent display.
That said, I can't help lamenting that much of the original's emotional oomph feels like it was left on the hydraulic lift back in Radiator Springs.