“Cars 2” is a differently paced sequel; it zooms away from its more Lightning McQueen-centric roots to focus on the accidental espionage escapades of Tow Mater, the unsophisticated best pal. But Lightning (voiced by Owen Wilson) still figures in a character-building plot when his friendship with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is tested during the globe-trotting adventure.
Race champ Lightning is still competitive and is pitted against the snooty Francesco (John Turturro), but Mater’s more unconventional scenarios lead to more imaginative and action-packed situations. Unexpectedly befriending sleek secret agents who mistake him for one of their allies, Mater finds himself in the middle of dangerous missions and equipped with advanced weaponry and gadgets.
While some may bemoan the focus on Mater, “Cars 2” is still quite entertaining despite and because of the shift. The accidental spy concept is hardly a new one, but it’s given a fresh and vivid spin, enlivening the “Cars” realm with more conflicts, dueling characters, and intriguing conspiracies. We also get to see more of the world that Lightning and company inhabit, so there are more enticing visuals and humanlike cultures depicted.
It’s not as heart-tugging or emotionally imprinting as most Pixar offerings, but it doesn’t have to be. The simple, easily digested messages concerning friendship are there, overshadowed quite nicely by the more immediate and amusing vehicular caper.