"Cars 2" cruised to a No. 1 finish with a...

"Cars 2" cruised to a No. 1 finish with a $68 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates. Credit: Pixar

Cars 2
2.5 stars
Directed by John Lasseter and Brad Lewis
With the voices of Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine
Rated G

It’s finally happened: Pixar produced a movie that is merely good. Not superb, not powerful — just good.

Pixar has always distinguished itself from other animated fare by infusing stories with enormous heart and a high emotional quotient. “Cars 2,” disappointingly, lacks this dimension.

In “Cars 2,” racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) enters the World Grand Prix, which takes him around the world. He brings along his best pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), a rusty tow truck whose hick charms begin to serve as a source of embarrassment for Lightning.

In his state of blissful naïvete, Mater unknowingly finds himself in the thick of an espionage plot that involves a villainous organization of jalopies and lemons. Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are the secret agents trying to crack the jalopies’ scheme.

To be clear, there’s a lot to like in “Cars 2.” The backdrops are spectacular, the cars are adorably rendered, and Caine is well-cast as the distinguished spy — his voice strikes a perfect balance between suave and playful. Then there are the cute real-world parallels: In this universe of four-wheeled characters, clean fuel dukes it out with fossil fuels, Japanese toilets are top of the line, and dumptruck tipping (an analogue to to cow-tipping) is a rural American pastime.

When all is said and done, though, the charms feel too contrived and the film fails to hit a sincere emotional note. You come to like “Cars 2” for its characters and composer Michael Giacchino’s endearing themes, but this is the rare Pixar film that does not move you.

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