The Pixar magic hasn't exactly disappeared but John Lasseter and his crew still face an uphill struggle to make audiences care as much about Lightning McQueen and Mater as much as they do about Buzz Lightyear or Mr Incredible.
We can identify fine with fish or toys or even dustbins but... automobiles have just too much chrome and rubber to make sympathetic protagonists. Another hitch is a script with several layers that have been welded together in a cumbersome way. On the one hand, this is a spy movie/green allegory about two sleek British vehicles, Finn McMissile (voiced by Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), out to thwart a mysterious oil magnate villain. On the other, it's a story about Lightning's attempts to win the world grand prix and prove he's still the fastest car in the world, whatever the Italian upstart Francesco (John Turturro) claims. The invention here is often still dazzling (witness tow truck Mater's tribulations in Tokyo), the race sequences are invigorating and spirited voice work atones for the inexpressiveness of the cars themselves. Even so, this isn't Pixar at top gear.