updated 6/29/2011 4:19:44 PM ET 2011-06-29T20:19:44

If you have a child who's grade-school age or younger, chances are fairly good that you've already seen Disney Pixar's animated feature, Cars 2. If you're not in that number but enjoy eco-friendly rides, you might want to sneak a peek through the back door -- just don't expect any surprises.

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(Note: spoilers ahead.)

The plot of Cars 2 is as complex as an episode of Pokemon -- which is to say that kids will follow along just fine. The bulk of it naturally centers around an auto race and attempts by race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) to nab the trophy.

Along the way, Lightning and his pal, the tow truck called Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), naturally get sucked into an espionage plot. And at the center of that plot sits the character of Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard), a Hummer/Land Rover/Jeep mashup who claims to have changed his habit of guzzling gasoline in favor of a new, renewable fuel called Allinol.

We don't want to give away too much of the storyline, but it's interesting to us that Disney and Pixar have been questioned about the film's eco-friendly message -- to the point that Pixar's John Lasseter felt the need to respond: “We don’t make message movies.... We weave things in that are going on, that you’re familiar with in the world, and kind of bring it into our stories.”


Propaganda or Pablum?

Critics who say that Disney and Pixar are using Cars 2 to indoctrinate children to the "green" worldview clearly haven't been paying attention. Without so much as batting an eye, we could rattle off dozens of kids' movies with similar themes, from Born Free to Free Willy. Whether the subject is cars or big cats, the message of environmental conservation is an easy one for children to digest.

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In fact, the idea of a modern movie hero not abiding by eco-friendly principles seems fairly foreign. On TV, the Internet, and at movie theaters -- in films for both children and adults -- only the finger-tenting baddies are the ones uprooting trees and digging for oil.

We haven't carried out a formal survey, but it seems to us like this sort of messaging has been on the rise since the 1960s, when eco-friendly policies first gained traction among mainstream consumers. That may explain why the green movement has picked up speed in recent years, as Generations X and Y have come into their own on the economic and political fronts.

If life continues to imitate art, it probably bodes well for manufacturers and fans of electric vehicles and other green cars, but if you have a different opinion, feel free to share it in the comments below.

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