By Joseph McAleer
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) -- Start your engines for the road trip of the summer in "Cars 2" (Disney/Pixar), a winsome round-the-world adventure that provides fun for the entire family. This sequel to the 2006 hit "Cars" expands its universe beyond Route 66 as our anthropomorphic car heroes meet their foreign counterparts -- including the Popemobile -- with hilarious results.
Along the way, amid clever sight gags and belly laughs, "Cars 2" offers good lessons about friendship, family and self-esteem.
"Cars 2" picks up where its predecessor left off, in Radiator Springs, whither Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) returns home after winning his fourth Piston Cup race. Waiting for him is his faithful pal, the hapless tow truck, Tow Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy).
"We've got a whole summer's worth of best-friend fun to do," Mater promises.
But there's more in store than tipping tractors in corn fields. McQueen accepts a challenge from cocky Italian Formula One racecar Francesco Bernoulli (voice of John Turturro), to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix across three countries. The race is organized by Sir Miles Axlerod (voice of Eddie Izzard) to promote Allinol, his alternative clean-burning fuel. (This is just one of the film's many environmental messages.)
Traveling by equally anthropomorphized airplanes, trains, and boats (with Disney's merchandising possibilities taking, no doubt, a quantum leap in the process), McQueen and Mater visit Tokyo, Italy and London, and the inevitable clash of cultures ensues.
Meanwhile, there's a parallel story straight from the James Bond playbook. The super spy of British Intelligence, an Aston Martin named Finn McMissile (voice of Michael Caine) and his assistant, the comely Holley Shiftwell (voice of Emily Mortimer), are tracking evil autos bent on world domination. An American agent holds the key. Mater is mistaken for the Yank operative, and the entertaining mix-ups begin.
As with "The Incredibles," our car spies face danger with much bravado and derring-do. The villains are cars no longer in production -- such as Pacers and Gremlins -- unloved by the public and labeled lemons. Subject to ridicule, they share a lack of self-esteem with Mater. Acceptance of others and embracing differences are among the film's key themes.
Much of the humor springs from sight gags, as director John Lasseter claims the human world for machines. Passing through airport security, cars remove their tires. Gambling cars throw fuzzy dice at casino tables, and head for the restroom when they begin to leak oil.
Asked an obvious question, Mater responds, "Is the Popemobile Catholic?" And before you know it, there he is, in a nonspeaking cameo, a stately white vehicle topped with a miter, watching the Italian leg of the race, and escorted by trams which appear to wear clerical birettas.
As in "Toy Story 3," some of the action in "Cars 2" -- mainly the spy scenes showcasing explosions, gunfights, and car "torture" -- may be too intense for the littlest of viewers. Those elements aside, though, this is an ideal family film.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G - general audiences, all ages admitted.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
Copyright (c) 2011 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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