Cars 2

I blow a piston whenever 2006's Cars gets trashed as the runt of the Pixar litter. Among the 11 computer-animated Pixar gems, Cars may not match The Incredibles, WALL-E, Up and the Toy Story trilogy. But A Bug's Life sure eats its dust. I could go on, but Cars 2, number 12 in the Pixar hit parade, should end the debate. The sequel is a tire-burning burst of action and fun with a beating heart under its hood. OK, I'm not sure Cars 2 needed all that fancified 3D, but you can bet it'll rev your engines. Original director John Lasseter is back behind the wheel, and you can feel his love for all things automotive in every frame. No humans blot this anthropomorphic romp. Cars do all the talking.

Working from a fluid script by Ben Queen, Lasseter and co-director Brad Lewis move their race-car hero, Lightning McQueen (dazzlingly drawled by Owen Wilson), out of run-down Radiator Springs and onto the global stage. Lightning is competing in the World Grand Prix, which takes him to England, France, Italy and Japan. Along with Lightning is his BFF, Mater, a hilariously unhip rust bucket of a tow truck voiced by redneck philosopher Larry the Cable Guy with such humor and warmth you want to take him home. With apologies to everything else on four wheels, Cars 2 is Mater's show. And Larry the Cable Guy is a hoot and a half. Turns out Lasseter has a jones for spy movies, which lets Mater mix it up with two new characters, classy British spy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine purring like a 007-era Aston Martin) and hot rookie Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who mistake Mater's cluelessness for a brilliant disguise. Will Lightning win the race? That's less important than whether Lightning will let his career wreck his friendship with Mater. It's the Pixar touch of valuing feeling over frenzy that makes Cars 2 a winner.

Related: Video: Peter Travers Reviews Cars 2 in "At the Movies With Peter Travers"
The 12 Must-See Summer Movies — Plus Five Unheralded Gems and Five More to Skip
The Complete Archive: Over 20 Years of Peter Travers' Movie Reviews

From The Archives Issue 1134: July 7, 2011