IT had to happen eventually.
Disney Pixar, the most consistently-dazzling animation studio on the Hollywood block, was always going to struggle to top the tearful elation and misty-eyed farewells of Toy Story 3, the highest grossing film of 2010.
Cars 2 falls short of that modern masterpiece, lacking sufficient heartfelt emotion under the bonnet to really rev our engines in the way that we have come to expect from the mercurial John Lasseter and his team.
For any other studio, this high-octane spy caper would be a triumph, orchestrating some death-defying action sequences that look even more startling in digital 3D.
And certainly young audiences will whoop with glee as tow truck Mater skids and screeches from one disaster to the next as the film’s turbo-charged characters circumnavigate the globe in the first ever World Grand Prix.
However, compared to Disney Pixar’s most recent features – Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3 – Lasseter and Brad Lewis’s film lacks the polish, which perhaps we’ve taken for granted.
Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) returns home to Radiator Springs as the four-time champion of the Piston Cup.
Best friend Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) welcomes him back with open doors, as does girlfriend Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt).
Italian racing car Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) goads Lightning into participating in a newly-announced championship organised by environmentalist Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), who will use the grand prix to showcase his state-of-the-art biofuel, Allinol.
However, a group of rogue cars led by the diabolical Professor Zundapp (Thomas Kretschmann) is plotting to sabotage the three races in Japan, Italy and the UK.
Thankfully, secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and rookie field spy Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are on the case, roping in Mater, who they mistakenly believe to be an undercover American agent.
“Finn McMissile, British Intelligence” suavely purrs the gadget-packed motor.
“Tow Mater, Average Intelligence,” cheerfully replies his rusty sidekick.
Cars 2 is a sweet and colourful yarn about being true to yourself, as seen through the headlights of Lightning, who is embarrassed by Mater’s social faux pas and demands the tow truck puts himself into a different gear.
“Why would you ask him to act like someone else?” asks Holley.
Visuals look spectacular and action sequences have been breathlessly orchestrated to take full advantage of the 3D format, so you feel like you are burning rubber down winding roads at dizzying speed.
Like all of Disney Pixar’s previous films, Cars 2 is accompanied by a hilarious short – Hawaiian Vacation.
In this six-minute treat, Buzz, Woody and the Toy Story gang help Barbie and Ken to celebrate their first holiday together by creating tropical climes in Bonnie’s bedroom.
That’s what friends are for.