Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Cars 2

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:G
Nudity/Sex:Some potty humor
Alcohol/Drugs:Sleep gas
Violence/Scariness:Cartoon-style peril and violence
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters
Movie Release Date:June 24, 2011
DVD Release Date:November 1, 2011
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Nudity/Sex: Some potty humor
Alcohol/Drugs: Sleep gas
Violence/Scariness: Cartoon-style peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Movie Release Date: June 24, 2011
DVD Release Date: November 1, 2011

Pixar has made another enchanting film, witty, touching, and utterly delightful. It is “Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation,” a brief opener followed by the less delightful “Cars 2.”

In “Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation,” Ken and Barbie are disappointed at being left behind when Bonnie and her family go to Hawaii. So, once Barbie coaxes Ken out of the backpack where he is sulking by telling him she needs some help coordinating her accessories, the other toys create their version of Hawaii in Bonnie’s bedroom. It is adorable — and the best part is that there will be another Toy Story short before next fall’s Muppet movie.

Then comes “Cars 2,” which continues the story of race car champion Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his best friend, the rusty, dented tow truck called Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy).  But this sequel is very different in tone and setting.  Mater takes the leading role in an action-filled and sometimes violent spy story that mixes poorly with some muddled messages about friendship and being yourself.  I suspect that if it had come from any other studio it would have been given a PG rating.


Lightning loves being with Mater in remote Radiator Springs, but has never taken him along to a race. When he gets the chance to compete in his first international event, Lightning invites Mater to come along.   Sir Miles Axlerod (voice of Eddie Izzard) is sponsoring a series of races to promote his new renewable resource-based fuel.  Lightning thinks his biggest problem will be out-racing the arrogant Italian champion, Francesco Bernoulli (voice of John Turturro).  But there are even more difficult challenges including the embarrassing behavior of his unsophisticated friend and what appears to be sabotage by someone who does not want Axelrod’s new fuel to succeed.

While Lightning is seeing less in his friend away from home, the suave super-spy Finn McMissile (voice of Michael Caine) mistakes Mater for another agent and Mater finds himself caught up in a web of danger and intrigue with Finn and his researcher-turned-field agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). Mater takes over the lead role, first as the kind-hearted but naive and clumsy rube who gets in everyone’s way and whose gaffes are so outrageous the sophisticated spies think it has to be a disguise.


Like a classic James Bond movie, the action moves from the US to Tokyo, Paris, London, and an imaginary spot in “the Italian Riviera.”  But it is overly violent, with many minor characters apparently burned up and one non-explicit scene of torture.  And it feels both over- and under-plotted at the same time.  All the different shifts in location with four big races and the spy story’s mechanical and logistical intrigues get overly complicated without drawing us in.  There’s a disquieting sense of missing the forest for the trees.  There are so many details, some quite delectable, that somehow the story and characters get lost in the clutter.  Is this a story about racing?  Friendship?  The environment?  Taking risks?  Bullying?  How other people can help us see that we’re capable of more but we should never let them persuade us we are capable only of less?  Being proud of your dents and the stories they help you remember?  How being rich and powerful does not make you happy and sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected places?  All of the above and more.


But some of those details remind us that even second-rate Pixar is worth seeing.  There’s the movie playing at the Radiator Springs Drive-In: “The Incredimobiles,” and some nice moments about how different kinds of cars are good at different kinds of race courses and the importance of being kind to “lemons.”  There’s a popemobile, a queen car, and geisha cars, even a mime car in Paris.  There’s a joke about the word “shoot” that is funny — twice.  But it is too scary and confusing for little kids and parents may find that they check their watches, not to see whether Lightning has beat his own record but to see how long before they can go home.


Parents should know that this film has some potty humor and it is harsher than the first “Cars” with a lot of spy story cartoon peril and violence, including  guns, chases, explosions (some car characters get blown up and crash) and sleeping gas.  It also has some hurt feelings and embarrassment.
Family discussion:  Why did Lightning feel differently about Mater when they were away from home?  How did the way Finn and Holley treated Mater teach him that he could do more than he thought?  What are your family’s stories behind dents and dings around your home?


If you like this, try: the first “Cars” movie and all of the other Pixar films, especially “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.”  Older audience members will enjoy some of the spy films that inspired this one like the James Bond series and “Our Man Flint.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Toby Clark

    I’m not sure I agree with an “All Ages” recommendation for a movie with at least two fairly brutal (for a car), partially off-screen murders – pretty disturbing by Pixar standards. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with Mater’s tactic for exposing the real villain, either.

    Nevertheless, I found it immensely satisfying as a spy thriller and as a comedy – highlight for me was “Is the Popemobile Catholic?” and the later brief appearance of said Popemobile – riding in another Popemobile. Although I think the line I laughed hardest at was “If I can just reverse the polarity…” – I don’t think anyone around me got the Doctor Who reference.

    • Nell Minow

      Great comment, Toby, and you’re right — I’ve adjusted the age recommendation. I was surprised MPAA gave it a G rating due to the fiery crashes. I loved the polarity line!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment A.S.

    I cannot believe this film got a G rating. I will never make the mistake of taking my child to a movie I haven’t screened first again. I foolishly took my four year old to see this because she so loves the original Cars movie. Unlike the sweet message and well-told story of the first movie, this one is nothing more than an animated Bond film. Cars are killed and injured violently. The storyline was created to make it more interesting for older kids and adults, but they forgot all about the little ones. We left the movie 20 minutes into it because she couldn’t handle it. I cannot believe that anyone could take something so wholesome and ruin it. They really lost their way. As if to prove this point, all the scenes that take place back in Radiator Springs have a completely different feel to them — they’re sweet, funny and paced the same way as the original movie. All the Bond-like violence takes place outside of Radiator Springs. John Lassiter and Company: What were you thinking?

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, AS. I am so sorry you and your child had a bad experience but this will be very helpful to other parents trying to decide whether they should see this film with their families. And you taught your child an important lesson about mistakes and about your willingness to leave. Good for you!

  • gina

    We walked out and got a refund after the first 5 minutes. Guns, explosions and cars saying “I’ll kill him!” does not merit a G rating in my book. I could also tell right away that the plot would be over my 4-year-old’s head.

    We did enjoy the Toy Story short. Very cute.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Meg

    My husband, two daughters (8 and 4) and I are huge Cars fans. We probably have about 200 of the toy cars we have collected. There was no way I was getting out of seeing the sequel, but I am so disappointed. The first movie was so gentle and I think there will be many families like mine where avoiding the second one will be near impossible. Was it really necessary to have so much violence to keep the spy theme? This was by far the most violent piece of media that my children have seen and I am angry that Disney lured us in with the love of characters from the first movie. I felt like I was at a James Bond flick but animated. I particularly disliked the scene where they were torturing the one spy car (you don’t mention this in your review).

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Vince

    I have to echo the sentiment that, at the very least, this film should have been rated PG for “frightening images” or something. There was at least one moment where one of the kids in the audience screamed in terror. However, in all the fuss over how violent the film is, no one seems to notice that Pixar has evolved over the years. They started out making films for kids that adults could also enjoy but nowadays they make films for adults that kids can also enjoy (Exhibit A: Up. Exhibit B: Ratattoullie). There is nothing inherently wrong with this and I actually enjoyed the fact that Cars 2 had a more serious plot. This is an excellent film to hold people over until James Bond returns, hopefully, next year. Pixar’s next film, Brave, is sure to have its share of violence too, being set in, I think, medieval Scotland, so be warned now.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Terry

    The film definitely deserves a PG rating. My son actually cried and told me he was scared when Mater and the other spies were in peril and Lightning McQueen’s life was threatened. I’m also angry that Disney did not warn parents about the extreme violence and intensity of this film, particularly because the second movie contrasts so much with the sweetness and innocence of the first. The film catered far too much to adults, and the plot was too complicated for young ones. I feel like I traumatized my son by taking him to see this movie; we spent the entire afternoon processing the film.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Courtney Mitchell

    Thank you for your comments everyone! After our bad experience with Toy Story 3, I wanted to wait before seeing Cars 2. We’ll definitely skip it and see it on dvd in a few years. Thanks again for the review and the comments!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Vince

    Something has just occurred to me which makes all the complaints seem kind of silly. Think about this for a second: The movie clearly shows that cars can be repaired, right? If that’s the case, then it seems to me that the wounded racers would have been fixed up offscreen. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been as many racers as there were in London. So relax, you’re overreacting. Still should’ve gotten a PG, though.

    • Nell Minow

      I wondered about that, too Vince, but would have expected to see them again to reassure us, and I could not tell if they were the same racers. And (spoiler alert) the issue of being blown up by a bomb would not be very meaningful if they could just be put back together. So I am not sure.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment susan

    I took my kids to see this movie and I was so disappointed! My kids are 9 and 10 so I didn’t feel it was too violent for them but even they only thought it was okay. Personally, I slept through most of it. I am not a James Bond fan and that’s exactly what it seemed to be. I think my husband will enjoy this movie more than the kids and I did.

    We all loved the Toy Story cartoon though it wasn’t long enough to make the $11/ticket worth it!

    Nell, I usually read your posts before I take my kids to a movie so I know what I’m exposing them to but I mistakenly assumed Cars 2 would be fine. If I had read first, I would have waited for the DVD. Guess I learned my lesson!

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Susan. You’d think if anything was a sure bet, it would be Pixar. But partly because of the high expectations, this one is a disappointment.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment marty

    Not a bad movie, but definitely not as good as the first Cars, and not up to the usual Pixar standard.

    But…my goodness…let’s stop handling our kids with “kid gloves.” I didn’t think the cartoon violence was in any way over the top. It certainly didn’t come anywhere near the level of violence that countless generations of children were exposed to in Grimm’s fairy tales, or Looney Tunes cartoons for that matter. And, let’s remember that there is a pretty fair amount of violence in some of the Bible stories that we introduce our children to. (David slays an evil giant by hitting him in the head with a rock, for goodness sake!)

    College professors have begun to refer to today’s freshmen as “teacups” because they have so few coping skills and their emotions are so fragile. Whether we like it or not, it’s a tough world out there. Let’s not teach our children to shy away from it.

    • Nell Minow

      It’s all about context and developmental readiness, Marty. I have no problem with children seeing some very sad things in movies like “Up” and “Wall-E,” or the sad goodbye in “Monsters, Inc.” But the violence in this movie is out of sync with its tone and with its predecessor. As you can see, I recommend it for elementary school children but not pre-schoolers.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment marty

    “But the violence in this movie is out of sync with its tone and with its predecessor.”

    Out of sync with its predecessor — yes, I’d agree. Out of sync with its tone — well, it’s a spy flick, so, I’d disagree there.

    I’ll also agree with those who think the movie should have received a PG rating. When you consider the fact that the original Cars was rated PG, it’s very surprising that Cars 2 came in under the wire with a G. And, I do feel for the parents who were caught off guard by the violence.

    But, I think that fearing that our children will be permanently scarred by the cartoon-style violence they witnessed is a bit of an overreaction. I think that kids are capable of handling much more than we give them credit for…with the proper parental guidance, of course. (So…yeah…should it have been rated PG? Probably.)

    Anyway, thanks for all of your hard work in putting together this blog, which seems to be an excellent guide for parents. (I just stumbled across it, and I’m excited to check it out a bit more.) And, thanks for giving all of us this forum to engage in some interesting, and stimulating, discussion.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ghost

    I have always liked your reviews, but I think that Pixar is trying to make a franchise out of something that should have been just one movie. The first one was good but it didn’t meet the standards of Pixar (Its very hard for me to relate to cars). Cars doesn’t have the same jive that Toy Story has, Whats next Up 2?

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Ghost. As you know, some people have a very special feeling about cars (Hot Wheels has produced more cars than all the car companies put together), and John Lasseter is one of them — he often speaks of his father’s job as a Chevy dealer. And Pixar mad a rat and a robot much more affecting than I would have guessed, not to mention fish and monsters. But I am not a big fan of either of the “Cars” movies.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joanie

    Okay, saw this today with another mom and a total of 4 teens. The teens loved it, because they GOT it. The families that brought their under 7 kids in, were miserable. And made it a bummer for the rest of us. The kids did not “get” the storyline, the cars getting “killed” made them cry. There were several kids screaming in terror at times. And babies crying because they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. So my (not so humble) opinion is that if you are torn on this one, wait for the DVD, watch it and see if your kid will okay with the content. It really should have had a PG rating. Don’t know what happened there.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kelly

    Saw this movie over the weekend. While I enjoyed it myself quite a bit, I regret that my 5 year old child (die hard Cars fan) was subjected to so much violence (in particular, the shooting). Surely they could have done better than to resort to that. I am thankful that Pixar has – over the years – added a wealth to the library of fun, animated movies. But I wish they would make a better attempt at advertising their media as fairly as possible. Instead of trying to make sure everyone from 4 to 80 isn’t bored (and essentially sacrificing anyone younger than 10), they should make sure they take greatest care with those most at risk. They never skimp on the adult concerns — every movie has enough innuendo and obscure references keep the geeks happy. But if they would just think of those 4-8 year old’s before they start the shooting, before they call someone an “idiot” (happens at least once every movie), etc. They could even avoid criticism from parents like me if they just suggested the MPAA give them a PG rating; goodness knows why this gets a G rating.

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Kelly — I agree. This should certainly have had a PG rating. The MPAA is too influenced by the big studios (which created it) to be objective.

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