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Cars 2

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Cars 2

Dir. John Lasseter and Brad Lewis; writ. Ben Queen; feat. Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Joe Mantegna. (G)

After 16 years of smooth sailing down a highway of animation bliss, the check engine light is officially blinking at Disney/Pixar with their newest feature film Cars 2.

It may have taken them a while to pull it off, but the studio, which has built a reputation on groundbreaking computer graphics and pitch-perfect storylines and characters, has finally done something that seemed extremely unlikely given their extraordinary 16-year track record — they’ve delivered a real clunker.

A shiny clunker, yes, but junk nonetheless. While it is rare to see Pixar struggle, it’s not much of a surprise they’ve hit a rough patch with this particular franchise. Despite what box-office and merchandising receipts say (little boys love their Hot Wheels), the original Cars in 2006 was not exactly a winner either. Any film that assembles a cast of characters based on lazy stereotypes can’t really be recognized for its originality. But at least the first one had that new car smell. Despite the sequel’s impressive design (those hubcaps sure do gleam), there are some ugly things going on under the hood that easily make Cars 2 the weakest entry in the Pixar catalog.

The problems start and end with the uninspired, witless, and convoluted script, which places race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and country bumpkin tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) in the middle of international espionage and a case of mistaken identity. The James Bond-esque scenarios never push the creativity to the high standards Pixar set with Toy Story in 1995.

Alas, not all is wasted on a trip to the theater if pleading kids have made a Cars 2 screening non-negotiable. The short animated film Hawaiian Vacation featuring the Toy Story characters, which precedes the actual movie, is a gem. Just remember to sneak out once you hear those engines start to rev.

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