CD Review: Cars 2

The original CARS in 2006 is widely considered one of the weaker Pixar efforts. Its box office performance did not nearly match its merchandising sales, with an estimated $5 billion in sales. After merchandising challenges like WALL-E and UP (grumpy old man action figure anyone?), it’s no surprise that the studio would revisit the film for an unnecessary sequel.

The first film had the presence of Paul Newman and a small shred of emotional resonance with the potential collapse of small-town America. Those two pluses are gone in CARS 2‘s busy, globe-trotting sequel, leaving us with a spy story that revolves around alternative energy sources, race after race in exotic locales that add nothing to the story, and Mater the Tow Truck (voiced by Larry the Gable Guy) as the weak central character. The humor lacks the wit of earlier Pixar efforts, and if the crowd of children at my screening are any indication, not even they found it particularly funny or enjoyable. So what does a film music fan do as the colorful film spins out of control? Listen to Michael Giacchino‘s energetic score.

With a catchy 8-bar main theme, Giacchino infuses the spy elements of the story (which is most of the film) with an INCREDIBLES/James Bond-like energy. Utilizing a ’60s Hammond organ sound, period percussion riffs, and a raucous, surfing electric guitar, the music provides drama and excitement to the lackluster story elements onscreen. Giacchino uses simple, repeated melodic and rhythmic to create tension.

Click Track: Towkyo Takeout

The down-home “shucks” of Randy Newman’s earlier musical palette from the original film thankfully only comes into play in Mater’s banjo theme and briefly at the end of the film when the action returns to Radiator Springs. He masters the Wide World of Sports sound with the majestic fanfares and inspirational harmonies of “Porto Corsa.”

Click Track: Porto Corsa

As to be expected with a film in which racing and international intrigue are the centerpieces of the story, Giacchino’s score rarely rests for a pit stop. He injects what heart and emotion he can, but the film doesn’t give him many opportunities. He wisely stays away from creating Japanese, Italian and British flavors to the score, instead using the spy music to give the music a retro energy and feel that reminds me of Nelson Riddle’s excellent work on the 1966 BATMAN (high praise!).

The rest of the album is filled out with disposable country ballads and duets by Brad Paisley and Robbie Williams, a pallid update by Weezer of The Cars’ classic “You Might Think” (why not use the original? licensing restrictions perhaps?), Perfume’s “Polyrhythm” for the Tokyo segment, and Bénabar’s 2001 French hit “Mon Coeur Fait Boum” now becomes the delightful “Mon Coeur Fait Vroum (My Heart Goes Vroom).”

Much like the characters in the film, all the race “tracks” tend to blend into each other. But it doesn’t matter. Giacchino’s music is far more sophisticated, especially in its orchestrations, than the film deserves. The score is a lot of fun and certainly sustained my interest on and off the screen. The film may crash and burn, but Giacchino’s score hums along like a well-oiled machine.

Film Score Click Track [rating:3.5/5]




  1. I think the score is overall, very weak. The spy elements lack class and cool and the more classical parts of the score, while nice, are very ordinary.
    But I don’t blame Giacchino for phoning it in. The whole movie is phoned in.

    1. I’ll agree with you about the film being phoned in, and I can see why you’d feel Giacchino’s music is as well. I think there’s a bit more going on than that, especially with very little there to work with. A rare Pixar misfire, but ultimately not surprising given the first film.

      1. It just doesn’t have anything memorable for me. I can’t give him points for not having the best film to work with. Dragonheart isn’t a very good movie but Randy Edelman was able to pull out a hell of a theme with To The Stars.

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