The original Cars of 2006 was Pixar animation's least fulfilling film with a laboured story and a look that never let you forget you were watching a cartoon.

Its new model has certainly had an increase in horsepower. It's got more marquee names behind the various marques. It's got a jetsetting Bondesque spy thriller plot with Michael Caine voicing Aston Martin-like wondercar Finn McMissile, who arrives with his own 007-ish music. It's got a message of sorts about alternative fuels. And it's got an extra dimension, in its 3D version at least.

But for all of its new optional extras, Cars 2 still gets stuck in its own dull traffic jam of a story.

That sure kills the fun for anyone over driving age. It might also leave the booster seat demographic wondering: where did that Lightning McQueen get to? The star racer of the first film gets largely sidelined here as Mater, McQueen's simple hillbilly tow truck friend (he's basically Goofy with a windscreen) gets mistakenly drawn into McMissile's mission involving some vehicular villains led by a monocled East German Trabant.

That's connected to an international Grand Prix series involving McQueen- cue stops in Japan, Italy and London with sidekick Mater's hick manners getting on McQueen's nerves. But standing by your friends, even if they leak oil, is apparently the message of this one. That sure is buried deep beneath the automotive puns, the story convolutions and all those supporting car-acters (hey kids! collect the set!).

Visually, it's predictably Pixar-impressive, though it sure loses clarity in 3D when it pans across yet another racetrack vista.

Like the first Cars, you tolerate it as a cartoon - in this case, an overlong episode of Wacky Races - rather than see it as a movie.

It does get an extra star for opening short Hawaiian Vacation, which reunites the Toy Story gang in a sweetly funny story. Its few minutes feel much funnier and more heartfelt than Cars 2's near two hours.

Voices: Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Larry the Cable Guy
Director: John Lasseter
Rating: PG
Running time: 113 mins

Stars: 3/5
Verdict: Higher-specced than the first but not as fun as it should be

- TimeOut