It goes without saying that critics hold Pixar in high regard. That is why “Cars 2” will be an opportunity for critics, many for the first time, to dump on the studio. And harsh criticism for this kiddie-focused sequel is not unwarranted, but my thought is that the film works best when not put into the Pixar context. Viewed in a vacuum, “Cars 2” is solid family entertainment.

Using the characters introduced in 2006 to stage an entirely new storyline, “Cars 2” takes Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) on an adventure involving international espionage. When British secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) discovers a plot that endangers the world’s energy supply, he turns to Mater for assistance. It is a convoluted story, but in this spy spoof, Mater comes into possession of some sensitive information by accident and McMissile and his young assistant spy Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) mistake Mater for a real spy. The script has fun with Mater’s accidental success in the spy game mainly because he has no idea what is really going on.

Eddie Izzard lends his voice and a character created in his own stand-up as he plays Sir Miles Axelerod, a Richard Branson type billionaire. When Axelerod invents a new fuel alternative to gasoline, he hosts a worldwide car race to showcase the new fuel dubbed “Allinol.” But dark forces threaten to expose weaknesses in the fuel and tear down confidence in the world’s energy supply. It’s up to Mater to come to the rescue!

The world of “Cars” offers up many chances for jokes like when Mater says “is the Pope mobile Catholic?” It also could have provided an opportunity to make a larger and more sophisticated comment about dwindling fossil fuel supplies. After all, it is a world in which gasoline is life. But instead of getting too complex, “Cars 2” aims lower, much lower, delivering up a spy story parody that milks everything for cheap laughs. And when combined with lovely animation that truly takes advantage of 3D, it is hard to hate on the result.

Unlike the first “Cars” film, this sequel is Mater’s movie. And that means that Larry the Cable Guy gets his best “role,” albeit voice only, to date. This is not the Larry the Cable Guy that has made a blue collar comedy career, rather, one that sticks to the script. It’s funny and had the potential to be touching with a more ambitious story. It goes without saying that “Cars 2” is the weakest film released by Pixar.

Not another Oscar contender from a studio used to winning the award in a cake walk, “Cars 2” will more than satisfy family audiences looking for light harmless summer fun.

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