By Skip Sheffield
“Cars 2” just isn’t the same without the voice and presence of Paul Newman. The young audience won’t notice or care about this, but an old gearhead like me is affected adversely. Movie star Paul Newman, who died Sept. 26, 2008, was probably the most famous non-career car racing enthusiasts in America.
Newman’s character of Doc Hudson, represented by a 1951 Hudson Hornet, was the heart and soul of “Cars,” the 2006 Pixar computer-animated release. Doc was both a doctor and a judge in the fictitious town of Radiator Springs, Arizona. The town was located on the once busy Route 66, which famously “winds from Chicago to L.A.” When the new and improved Interstate 40 was built, it by-passed Radiator Springs and many other small towns like it.
“Cars” was an unexpected hit because there are so many car freaks in America, and the story, written Pixar founder John Lassiter and Joe Ranft, honored history and folklore while providing light entertainment by an all-star cast of anthropomorphic motor vehicles.
Alas “Cars 2” is a shoddy re-tread of the original concept. Lassiter is back as co-director with Brad Lewis, but Joe Ranft was killed, ironically in a car accident before the first film was released.
Lassiter and screenwriter Ben Queen must have felt the need to transplant the two main characters: young racer Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his tow-truck sidekick Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) to foreign locales for fun and merriment. The fatal flaw in this plan is that it gave way too much screen time to the comedian who calls himself Larry the Cable Guy. Larry is a one-trick pony; which is drawling, dim-witted rube.
Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer voice two new characters: Finn McMissile (Caine in James Bond mode) and Holly Shiftwell (Mortimer as a Bond babe).
These characters get sidetracked as Lightning and Mater blunder their way through Japan, Italy and the U.K. Returning voices Cheech Marin, Jeff Gordon and Bonnie Hunt are largely ignored.
The film is in 3-D, which I am told by my fully-sighted friend Beth, is quite effective. The theater which hosted our advance screening chose to play the film at deafening volume, perhaps in an effort to keep everyone awake. Sorry kids, I’m afraid “Cars 2” will try the patience of even the most loyal Disney/Pixar fans.