Cars 2 dazzles but ultimately disappoints

The streak is over.

Cars 2 isn’t a bad film by any measure. It’s visually dazzling, it has some fine action set pieces, and it has a breakneck pace that is far from boring. It also features a witty spy plot which is right up my alley. It’s just not as good as we expect it to be, and that is absolutely unavoidable: Pixar has created masterpiece after masterpiece, and have made films that are beautiful works of art and also incredibly moving and entertaining at the same time. They have done it so consistently, and with an ease and grace that makes it look effortless. Until now.

Half-way through Cars 2 I noticed something – my sons were disinterested. They are disinterested a lot – they are boys, after all – but this was the first time they had ever been disengaged with a Pixar film. Ever. My youngest son even fell asleep two-thirds of the way through… in an afternoon matinee.

Why? I think I figured it out. Cars 2 is a stunning and beautiful technical achievement, but it’s like the confections you buy at the snack stand before the movie starts. It’s all sugar, no substance. Empty calories. It’s exactly what some critics said that the (under-appreciated) Speed Racer movie from a couple of years ago was – pyrotechnics with no heart.

They were wrong about Speed Racer – that movie has plenty of heart – but the same reviews could be used today for Cars 2 and be a lot more accurate. There’s no heart. Cars 2 is the anti-“Up,” the opposite of everything that made Pixar movies great – a commitment to characters and a compelling story. Cars 2… well, it’s not bad. It’s just not very good, either. It comes off as a movie made to sell a lot of toys, and that’s the only reason it exists, really. I’m sorry, but Pixar… you’re better than that.

At least, I thought you were.