Given their twenty-five-year track record of successes, Pixar's Cars 2 may not be their strongest feature, but the sports sequel is still entertaining with visually dazzling action in a tale of espionage and Mater heroics. The follow-up screeches onto the Ultra HD scene with a gorgeous 4K HR10 presentation, a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and the same set of supplements. Recommended for fans.
Pixar was back on the right track immediately following the first Cars movie, releasing four back-to-back critical and financial successes. But then suddenly, they raced into theaters with a real lemon when the animation studio revisited the world of anthropomorphic vehicles in Cars 2 where Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is unwisely granted a more prominent role.
To be fair, there is nothing inherently wrong with the rusty tow truck and his presence produced some of the best laughs in the first movie. But his charm and appeal is, honestly, as the comic-relief sidekick, not the sappy clown warranting a dedicated subplot adventure. The story proper with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) traveling the world to compete in a newly-created Grand Pix isn't much better either. Although it eventually ties everything together for a large, action-packed finale, the mystery of the mastermind behind the conspiracy to damage the potential of an alternative fuel source also feels rather sluggish while the story's messaging about renewable energy — as admirable and praiseworthy as it is — is so ineptly hammered at the audience that it quickly loses steam and tends to come across as preachy.
Neither storyline is all that terrible on their own, particularly the far-from-subtle subtext, but it ultimately feels more like an extended Saturday morning cartoon or a direct-to-video follow-up than the sort of quality storytelling we'd expect from Pixar. Featuring the voice talents of Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro and Eddie Izzard, the sequel chugs along with a few enjoyable moments as it toys with familiar espionage tropes, spectacular action visuals and a heartwarming tale of friendship, but Cars 2, in the end, ranks as Pixar's weakest film.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of the 2011 Blu-ray HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings Cars 2 to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Disney Digital Copy. When redeeming said code via RedeemDigitalMovie.com or MoviesAnywhere, users have access to the 4K digital version in Dolby Vision HDR with Dolby Atmos audio. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc, which is identical to the 2011 Blu-ray. Both are housed inside a black, eco-vortex case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a static screen where owners can choose between the start of the movie or look through the menu.
The sequel takes on the Ultra HD conspiracy with a gorgeous, winning HEVC H.265 encode, providing some stiff competition for its Blu-ray predecessor. Coming from a 2K digital intermediate, the upscaled transfer doesn't exhibit a significant jump in overall definition and resolution over its HD counterpart, but details are slightly sharper. The minute features of the cars, the racetracks and the lettering in signs are very well-defined. The exotic locations can be striking and even photorealistic on some occasions, revealing every individual stone in the buildings and roads with impressive clarity. The unique architectural characteristics of the European buildings and the smallest imperfections are plainly visible. From time to time, there is evidence of some very mild aliasing along the sharpest lines and edges. Thankfully, it's not as egregious as the first Cars movie but worth noting nonetheless.
Hands down, the definitive win in this HDR10 presentation is fueled by the wider color gamut, which probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Every scene is practically showered in sumptuous but distinct primaries, like the cobalt blues of the cars, the cerulean-teal tint in the sky, the deep admirals of lights or the lively, energetic greens, emeralds and shamrocks. The rest of the action is a kaleidoscope of reds and a vast array of secondary hues, from the marked differences in the cherry, ruby or carmine reds of various race cars to the fiery, marigold oranges of the explosions. Japan is alive in bubbling neon purples, magentas, pinks and blues, but France and Italy are bathed in soft pastels and earthy yellows, tans and browns while London feels more downcast and grayish.
The big 4K show continues with pitch-perfect contrast, looking notably brighter and making the HD version seem a tad dimmer, by comparison. Whites are surprisingly cleaner and radiate with brilliant luminosity, giving some of the vehicles a vivid gloss while outfitting action sequences with a more spirited pop. Likewise, specular highlights display a welcomed boost, showing a more resplendent and intense glow from the sunshine glistening off the cars and lights illuminate the screen with a crisp, tight punch while maintaining excellent visibility. Black levels are also luxurious and inky, exhibiting superb gradations between the lighter and darker portions of the frame and showing discrete differences in the tires, accessories and the glossy paint jobs of the various vehicles. Every feature and minute detail is always clear and visible in the velvety, midnight shadows, providing the 2.39:1 image with a cinematic, three-dimensional quality, making this UHD edition a notable upgrade. (HDR10 Video Rating: 88/100)
The sequel screeches onto the Ultra HD scene with an outstanding, demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack that is every bit the equal of its DTS-HD MA counterpart while improving on it with a few welcomed modifications.
The opening action sequence immediately sets expectations for the rest of the runtime, as the smallest bit of debris shower all around and noise bounces between the surrounds with echoes through the ceiling speakers. The rest of the design comes with several subtler ambient effects notably expanding the soundfield, and the score bleeds above the listener while racing scenes fill the entire room with cars, helicopters, and jets speeding overhead. In the end, there are many segments that effectively generate an enveloping hemispheric soundscape, placing viewers right in the thick of the action.
At the same time, imaging feels continuously spacious and expansive with the cheers of the crowd unfurling into a wall of sound, cars flawlessly zooming between the three front channels and into the off-screen space, and explosions igniting the screen with debris spreading into the top heights. This creates a highly engaging and satisfying half-dome soundstage, maintaining superb distinction and separation in the mid-range and outstanding acoustical detailing in the score. A robust and responsive low-end delivers some palpable oomph to the explosions and appreciable presence in the music. With precise, well-prioritized vocals even during the loudest, chaotic moments, the object-based mix is a fun, entertaining upgrade. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 96/100)
For me, Cars 2 is Pixar's weakest movie and lowest ranking, but given their twenty-five-year track of memorably amazing features, the sports sequel is still decently entertaining and better than most CG-animated movies, adding some visually dazzling action sequences in a tale of espionage and Mater heroics. This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray features a gorgeous 4K HR10 presentation and a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos soundtrack, delivering a notable upgrade over its Blu-ray counterpart. Featuring the same set of supplements as before, this UHD edition is nonetheless recommended for those hungering for more HDR goodness.