Of all Pixar's alti-verses, the one in Cars is the hardest to buy into. Motors with eyes for windshields, pootling about a four-wheeled world modeled on auto parts? It may be John Lasseter's pride and joy, but for us it's missing some key components.
Internal logic for one. Charm. Car-isma...
Ok, so the 2006 original eventually won us over with its fish-out-of-water storyline and its nostalgic passion for Americana. But not so much that we were craving another outing for Lightning McQueen and his tow-truck mate Mater, hardly the Butch and Sundance of the animated fraternity.
Seemingly guessing as much, the Emeryville elite seek to woo us with a pre-feature short, Hawaiian Vacation, that joyously reunites the Toy Story gang. Sadly, like a clapped-out banger, this gambit backfires. We love Buzz and Woody, while we merely tolerate Mater and McQueen. Why waft champagne under our noses when we are really getting Car-va?
To be fair, Cars 2 begins well with a Bondian prologue which sees suave superspy Finn McMissile - voice Michael Caine, body DB5 - sneak onto an offshore oil platform at the centre of a global gasoline conspiracy.
Goldfinger gags abound in the ensuing mayhem, raising hopes that Lasseter has heeded the critics and upped the ante accordingly. But once the action defaults to Radiator Springs, the movie springs a leak, mostly by putting clueless hick Mater centre stage.
Yes, it is Owen Wilson's hotshot racer who gets invited to compete in a World Grand Prix that whisks him to Japan (Geishas, neon), Italy (Popemobile) and Britain (Big Bentley, Tyre Bridge). But it's Mater who gets embroiled in McMissile's mission, a convoluted caper involving alternative fuel, millionaire mogul Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) and rookie agent Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer).
Mater scuppering an assassination attempt in a Tokyo restroom. Mater careering around an international airport. Mater infiltrating a villain convention in elaborate disguise. Yes, we sure do get a lot of the bumbling rust-bucket this time around, testing our patience for Larry the Cable Guy's hillbilly schtick to braking point.
True, the picture is punctuated by three thrilling race meets that find McQueen and tutti-frutti nemesis Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) justifying the now obligatory 3D as they negotiate spectacular Scalextric-style courses.
What should be highlights though have more than a clutch of afterthought, particularly during an extended London-set climax more interested in the plastic attached to Mater's carburettor (some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!) than who gets to the finish line first.
Cars' popularity with the kids ensures a large and enthusiastic audience will turn up for the sequel.
Yet where Pixar's other films have captivated across the board, Cars 2 could leave some grown-ups feeling tired.
There's more going on than there was in Cars and the globe-trotting's a gas. But compared to the pick of the Pixar pack, this is some way down the grid.