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The first “Cars” film was a bit of an unexpected hit, questioned by some critics (or, at least me), before proving to be yet another delightful hit in a long string of award-winning Pixar films.

And in “Toy Story 2″ and “Toy Story 3,” Pixar demonstrated it was capable of making quality sequels.

So it was no surprise to me that the theater I sat in for “Cars 2″ was filled with families and children, hoping for bright colors, laughter and an uplifting message – everything we’ve come to expect from what may be Hollywood’s most golden movie company.

What was surprising … is how incredibly bored the audience was by “Cars 2.”

A few minutes into the film, I began to count – from among the 100 or so children in the theater – how many laughs I heard from the audience for the rest of the film: 112 minutes of movie, 100 children and exactly zero laughs.

“Cars 2″ is a colossal snoozer.

To be fair, the movie, which plays out as an homage to James Bond-style action, seems written more for adults than tykes, and I did let loose a few chuckles on jokes that went way over the children’s heads.

“Cars 2″ is also set against a stunningly beautiful backdrop – which was sadly blurry in the 2D version that I watched – that shows the animators put serious attention into making a quality film.

It’s too bad the scriptwriters didn’t give “Cars 2″ the same attention.

It’s possible young gear heads, who like cars and can tell the difference between a Gremlin and a Pacer, or who are fans of action films, or who have been privy to James Bond or Inspector Gadget, or who love European geography, might get a kick out of the cars and rockets and explosions and Italian architecture – all of which are, again, animated just gorgeously.

But uninspired writing, tired jokes and the absence of jokes altogether sabotaged what could have been an entertaining film. Furthermore, the movie suffered from split personality: made for adults but marketed for children and filled with the infantile character Mater gobbling up way too much screen time.

“Cars 2″ is almost certainly the worst major motion picture Pixar has ever made.

Even the film’s worldview, unfortunately, is a mix of politically correct claptrap stirred in with some fairly shallow but positive messages on friendship.

The film’s primary villain, for example, [spoiler alert, not that it isn't obvious from the first few moments of the film] is a multi-millionaire capitalist and Big Oil industrialist who manufactures a phony alternative fuel with the aim of blowing up engines powered by his new “invention.” Once the world sees the disastrous results of “green” energy, he reasons, they’ll all come running back to oil – and this is a double bonus, as he just found an off-shore bonanza of the bubblin’ crude.

He’s aided in his quest to make gobs of money by a fleet of “lemons,” the un-cool kids of the car community who feel marginalized and outcast by the Porsches, Hondas and BMWs of the world.

For good measure, Pixar throws in some recycled lines about friendship from the “Toy Story” films, especially after the hero, Lightning McQueen, feels his hic pal, Mater, is cramping his social style. Lightning scolds and scorns Mater over his local-yokel ways, and naturally, regrets it later.

“He’s a close friend?” a wizened, old Italian asks McQueen.

“Best friend,” the race car answers.

“Then why ask him to be something else?”

Shortly thereafter, McQueen gets a second helping of advice:

“Everybody fights, especially best friends,” McQueen is told. “No fight is more important than a friend.”

The moralizing in the film could have had a chance of being meaningful, if only the rest of the script were written with much heart. As it is, the only life blood flowing through “Cars 2″ is in bad need of an oil change.

Content advisory:

  • “Cars 2″ contains neither profanity nor obscenity.
  • The film contains no outright sexuality, but a small amount of flirtatious behavior. Mater talks about dating another car and having a “girlfriend,” some female cars swoon over a Formula One racer’s “open wheels” and the same F1 car boasts of having been in the company of multiple females. During the “Toy Story” animated short that precedes the movie, the Ken doll is seen shirtless, and he and Barbie kiss.
  • The film contains a heavy amount of peril and violence for a G-rated film, in keeping with its James Bond theme. There are Gatling guns, rockets, missiles, torpedoes, shooting, explosions, hand-to-hand (er, tire-to-tire) combat, race crashes, cars being crushed, blown up, threatened with the words “I’ll kill you” and more. It’s not a minor element; this is a junior version of an action film.
  • The movie contains no overt occult or religious themes.

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