By Eleanor Ringel Cater
Something in me thinks the late Steve McQueen would be honored that future generations may know him best as a shiny red race car named Lightning McQueen, the animated star of Pixar’s “Cars” movies.
The first “Cars” earned more than $460 million worldwide (peanuts, actually, compared to other Pixar hits, but still a lot of cash). In the sequel, “Cars 2,” McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) takes a back seat to his buck-toothed, rust-bucket best buddy, Mater, a down-home tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy).
Lightning takes Mater with him when he goes overseas for the World Grand Prix, sponsored by a squirrel-y proponent of alternative fuel, a former oil baron named Sir Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard).
However, Mater inadvertently becomes caught up in a spy game. A couple of Brit spies, um, cars (Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer) mistake his Hee-Haw hi-jinks as a cunning disguise assumed by a master agent.
It gets more complicated from here as a 007 plot kicks in, pitting the Brits against a lethal ring of lemons (Gremlins, Pacers, etc….no Edsels, however; guess that’s your great-grandfather’s loser).
Meanwhile, back at the track, McQueen faces off against an arrogant Italian number (John Turturro doing Sacha Baron Cohen in “Talladega Nights”).
To its credit, “Cars 2,” despite its over-busy plot and constant action, certainly isn’t, well, on automatic. But the secret agent schemes do get confusing. And I’m not sure the potential assets of alternative fuel mean much to a four-year-old.
For whom, of course, “Cars 2” is made. Along with his or her 10-and-under siblings.
My 4-year-old expert, Matthew, seemed to enjoy himself (though I did notice — tip to the studio — the one-size-fits-all 3-D glasses seemed a little heavy for his face; he took them off whenever he could).
His favorite part? No question: “The race.”
Maybe “Cars 3” (should there be one) should focus more on carburetors than undercover operatives.