The second lap for Pixar's auto heroes takes everyone far from Radiator Springs as supercharged superstar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) goes for global glory in the World Grand Prix. But someone is out to sabotage the racers. And somehow, Lightning's rusty ol' pal Mater the tow-truck (Larry The Cable Guy) finds himself at the heart of the intrigue when he's mistaken for a secret agent. Luckily, he's got British superspy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) to guide him through the mission. Legendary Pixar founder John Lasseter takes the wheel for a fast and furious adventure that leaves the animated competition for dust.
Larry The Cable Guy
In 2006, Pixar surprised nobody by scoring another technical and commercial hit with their seventh feature. But, as loud and overtly flashy as its souped-up protagonist Lightning McQueen, Cars remains the least warmly received - and remembered - of the studio's ground-breaking pantheon.
Tellingly, it failed to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Now that was a shock. So it might seem odd that McQueen and his gas-guzzling chums should get another day in the sun when the better-loved characters of The Incredibles and Finding Nemo have never resurfaced (though a sequel to Monsters, Inc is due in 2013).
However, in overseeing the matter personally (co-directing with Ratatouille producer Brad Lewis), it appears that Pixar supremo John Lasseter is keen to make amends.
Of course, it's "Disney.Pixar" these days. So how better to restore those Disney values than by sending these wonderfully merchandisable creations on an adventure that would fit perfectly inside an XBox? You kids will be chattering about loyalty and friendship all the way to the Cars Land theme park!
It's easy to be cynical. But it's even easier after watching a sequel that looks terrific but rarely gets out of emotional first gear. It's like a washing machine made by Ferrari.
Things get underway when boy racer McQueen (Wilson) is challenged to compete in the World Grand Prix by cocky Italian racer Francesco Bertoulli (a formula-one turn from John Turturro).
The tournament is sponsored by range-roving entrepreneur Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard) whose only demand is that all competitors use his revolutionary ultra-clean fuel Allinoil.
But no sooner does Team McQueen set tyre in Japan than trusty, rusty tow-truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) blunders into the midst of an undercover operation led by Caine's unflappable spy McMissile and his sporty assistant Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
A shady oil conglomerate is sabotaging the competition with a device that turns Allinoil into dynamite. So with racers being reduced to spare parts, Mater has no choice but to join the plucky Brits and stop the fossil-fuelled fiends before Lightning gets zapped.
Racing through Paris, Tokyo and a Tuscanised version of Monaco before the big finale in London, director Lasseter and his crew maintain - and occasionally surpass - Pixar's visual standards. Cars 2 positively gleams.
Yet with clever automotive details in everything from the architecture to advertising boards, what's going on in the background is often more interesting than what's happening centre stage.
Because for all its vroom and vigour, the action rapidly gets repetitive and the story fails to grip. The most obvious of the script's worn tyres puts Lightning on exactly the same learning curve as last time - treating his best friend as an embarrassment before realising the error of his ways.
The key issue here, however, is self-esteem, as Mater's new-found empowerment is contrasted with the irredeemably resentful villains - a cabal of mechanically deficient 'lemons'. That aside, there's not much under the hood.
Ironic that Cars continues to be Pixar's most underpowered juggernaut - but you have to admire the body work.