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2011_cars_2-wideCars are one of the cool things about the James Bond series. From Aston Martin DB5s with pop out gun barrels and a remote control BMW, the autos have been a big part of those spy stories, so I guess it makes sense to make a spy story actually starring cars, but will it make sense to the kids it is aimed at?

The twelfth Pixar film, “Cars 2” comes five years after the original won a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film. Once again, the story begins in the town of Radiator Springs, hometown to champion race car Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson), his pal Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) and a host of other anthropomorphic cars and trucks. The action begins when McQueen and his tow truck BFF leave town to take part in a World Grand Prix race. While McQueen tears up the racetrack Mater good naturedly becomes embroiled in a top secret case of international espionage involving alternative fuel, corny jokes—“Is the Popemobile Catholic?”—and lots of frenetic action.

The first “Cars” film was my least favorite Pixar film—until now. The original was expertly made and wildly popular but for my money, lacked the kind of emotional punch of movies like “WALL-E,” “Toy Story” and “Up.” The new film has much of what you expect from Pixar—like beautiful animation—but seems to have left its heart at the junkyard. For the first time a Pixar movie feels more like a cynical excuse to sell merchandise—the original generated more than $5 billion in swag sales—than a fully realized film.

Stories laden with carefully developed messages and themes have always been Pixar’s strong point, but “Cars 2” with its overly complicated narrative and hard to follow messages about the importance of alternative fuel sources misses the mark. Before seeing the film I would have guessed that if anyone could make a kid’s movie about “big oil” and pull it off it would have been Pixar, but I would have been wrong.

The colorful characters will likely have the same kind of appeal for kids, especially young boys, as they did the first time around but fore me the new car smell is completely missing from the sequel. “Cars 2” is a clunker.

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