Cars is a four letter word.
I typically try to avoid three letter words that become four letter words by pluralizing them with an "s". I also don't generally use proper names for a four letter word. But I'm breaking both of these rules to talk about the latest Pixar move, Cars 2. I try to avoid spoilers - but I do assume that you've seen some of the previews and commercials (not to mention the original movie) to get an idea of what is going on.
I went in optimistic - Pixar has, with only one exception, been able to craft a fun and creative movie, balancing characters, stories, visuals, plot, and action. They have used their medium to tell stories that would not otherwise have been able to be told, and to use that medium in a wholy unique way. Typically, when I first hear about a Pixar movie, my reaction is "I don't know how they'll pull it off - but if anyone can do it, they can."
Such was my attitude about Cars 2. And this time... they couldn't pull it off.
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of fun and clever things about Cars 2. I'm sure kids will love it. Probably lots of little bits that I'm hoping to go back and look for another time. And the artists and technologists have finally been able to capture animated fire, water, and smoke in various forms. But as a whole, it just felt far more superficial and weakly structured than most other Pixar stories. There was nothing to draw me into it - neither the spy story that is at its heart, nor the race that serves as its setting, nor the buddy story that is meant to be its soul. The characters are largely light and superficial, with only one providing anything near depth.
The short that preceded Cars 2 was also a disappointment. After putting the characters from Toy Story to bed, they were dredged out again for Hawaiian Vacation, a rushed and lackluster short featuring one-liners from all the characters we've grown to know and love. When Toy Story 3 came out, I heard an interview that stated that they could have kept churning out sequels that just kept putting the toys into various generic situations, but they deliberately tried to find a story that would be unique and special for these characters - it feels like they threw out that idea and have, instead, resorted to making cookie cutter shorts instead of the innovative and creative shorts in years past.
The two are well paired - rather than pushing the boundaries of storytelling and art, as they have done in years past, these were generic movies, apparently more aimed to enlarge the franchises they belong to, rather than enhance them.