Cars 2 has the body of burnished Pixar purdiness, a chassis built of the bleached bones of Geoffrey the Giraffe, and an engine kissed by the Cylon god. In Cars 2, God isn't the cosmic clockmaker; he's the cosmic carburetor.
Thus far, critics have mostly been preoccupied with the mediocrity of Cars 2 (vis-à-vis, oh, every other Pixar film) and the fact that this flick was rolled off the lot to sell a shit-ton of racecar beds. But that's not why Cars 2 makes me feel like I've been mainlining Armor All.
Let's start with a bare-bones synopsis of Cars 2. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is a fast car who's friends with Larry The Cable Guy The Car. While Lightning is off racing at fanciful international locales, Delta Farcemobile discovers a nefarious international conspiracy with Michael Caine The Car. Also, Lightning wants to have sex with the mom from Beethoven. She too is a car.
Cars 2 forces the audience to make some nutty assumptions and — weirdly enough — I didn't have a problem with most of these. For example, I could swallow the embellishment that these anthropomorphic cars have organized themselves into nation-states that parallel our own. There's Car Italy, Car Japan, and presumably Car Burkina Faso.
I could also understand that these gas-guzzling golems have carnal urges. I blame Battlestar Galactica and the Vision and Scarlet Witch's doomed nuptials for my casual acceptance of sultry, 4-wheel-drive-on-2-wheel-drive rear-ending.
Additionally, "You Might Think" by The Cars plays at one point. This implies that a Station Wagon Ric Ocasek exists and — by extension — there's a Coupe Phoebe Cates who once exposed her headlights to an autoerotically-inclined Hatchback Judge Reinhold. (NSFW if I have to spell this shit out).
I could even tolerate the cars' disturbingly realistic human pupils which follow you around the multiplex, as if some astigmatic albino cave yetis were hiding behind the movie screen and watching their own blockbuster: The Shadowy Room Full Of Happy Children And Their Pet Somnolescent Adults.
No, what blew my brains out was that Cars 2 had brief scenes with a Car Pope. With his own Popemobile.
Did Pixar toss in a glimpse of the auto-papacy as a throwaway joke? Absolutely not. In a $200-million film about Gremlins and Yugos who run mafioso dynasties and a deranged Tonka-Truck-Tokyo filled with Geisha Sedans and squat bidets built for pooping automobiles, nothing is off-the-cuff.
No, Pixar bigwig John Lasseter and company are making some very pointed statements about the theology of Cars. Let's unpack the significance of the Pope Car.
1.) Existence of Pope Car = Existence of Christmobile
Unless Pixar is playing it extremely fast and loose with the history of Christianity, let's assume that there's a Jesus Christmobile central to Roman Cartholicism. But automobiles are a modern contrivance — who or what is the Christ figure of the Cars universe? I have a couple ideas:
1.) An immaculately conceived olive cart
2.) The Michelin Man (his taste in food is divine)
3.) Fred Flintstone's car
4.) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Christ walked on water, Chitty drove on air. (Ditto goes for the car from the end of Grease.)
It's safe to say Pixar will never tell us who Car Jesus was. Just know that two millennia ago, Herbie the Love Bug may have been crucified.
2.) Pope Car = Car God
Again, assuming that Pixar's left the bare bones of Christianity intact, a Car Pope means that there's a Car God out there. Let's also presume that the Kelley Blue Book of Revelation is surfeit with scenes of Gravedigger and Robosaurus ravaging the Earth.
(Digression: I have a theory that Cars 2 is an unofficial epilogue to Battlestar Galactica. See, after the Cylon Centurions and Raiders zipped away on the Rebel Basestar during the series finale, they settled down on a nice hunk of rock with their monotheistic faith and penchant for emulating the skinjobs. Try to prove me wrong.)
Anyway, in the world of Cars 2, sentience is conferred to those conveyances who don't rely on human elbow grease for locomotion. It's like a G-rated Maximum Overdrive — planes, boats, train and automobiles are aware, not unicycles, gondolas, or velocipedes. Therefore, we can assume that the Carden of Eden was populated by stray slabs of rock rolling downhill on logs and/or coconuts.
3.) Car Pope = Car Celibacy
Cars can't sexually reproduce in Cars 2 — maybe some underground morlocks off-screen build them, remember the Maximum Overdrive paradigm — but some cars have sworn off sexual intercourse. WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THAT.
4.) Car Buddha?
Cars 2 features a scene in which a Piaggio Ape maintains a Zen garden. Does this mean that an automotive form of Zen Buddhism exists? What is the sound of one mudflap flapping?
FINAL VERDICT: Sneak into Cars 2 to see the charming Toy Story 3 short and then go home and watch the YouTube trailer for Video Brinquedo's The Little Cars 2. You'll save two hours and spare yourself a lifetime of wondering if God is a Peugeot.