Welcome to the world of Cars, where every living being has a motor for a heartbeat and at least one pair of wheels for legs. Now meet Lightening McQueen. He’s the latest hot-rod on the racing circuit and surely on his way to a competition that will crown him the new king of the Piston Cup Championship. He lives fast and drives fast and can’t wait to find himself a respectable sponsor. But McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) soon finds himself stuck in Radiator Springs, a small town off Route 66 that he normally wouldn’t be caught dead in.
McQueen’s a bit of an arrogant ass so it doesn’t come as a surprise that he has no friends. But he finds one in a rusty, run-down tow truck named Mater (Larry The Cable Guy, surprisingly funny). He also falls for the small-town girl (a Porsche, duh) in Bonnie Hunt’s Sally and manages to learn a lesson or two from the crabby town doctor (and judge), Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) who for some reason has something against race cars like McQueen. They and a handful of other delightful characters help McQueen learn the value of friendship and give pause to his overly ambitious fast-paced lifestyle.
Yes, Cars is an undeniably entertaining and technically wicked piece of animation, a solid entry in Pixar’s sterling resume. Directors John Lasseter, and the late Joe Ranft- not to mention the endless string of the studio’s other contributors- somehow manage to not only give real personality to these steels on wheels (utilizing the car windshields as eyes), but also be a clever hallmark to Route 66 and the machines that rode over it on their way through the Mojave Desert. It’s a pure slice of Americana and it has a wonderful ending that beautifully defines what it means to win. There are moments of humor for both the kids and adults. Finally, it’s quite possibly Pixar’s most cinematic film (the racing scenes are expertly shot, the power of sound, animation and camera placement in a near-perfect display). I recommend the film to anyone with interest in seeing it.
Still, I left the theatre a little disappointed. Let me preface this by saying, I’m a big fan of every single Pixar movie. I consider them to be the best studio in the business. Even when they follow formula, their films have always managed to feel fresh and at least a little unpredictable because they’re such good storytellers.
Having said all that, and probably because of it, I found that as clever as much of Cars is, the screenplay isn’t as strong as it should be and Lasseter and Co. relied a bit too heavily on tongue-in-cheek pop song entries. Randy Newman has been nominated a bunch of times just for his Pixar movie songs alone and his latest entry; a sweet song called “Our Town” will likely continue this trend. And while the song is good, it almost slows the film down to a halt (If you want to see how a good slow Randy Newman song can really enhance a film, check out the sequence to “When She Loved Me” in Toy Story 2).
But as I said, the songs aren’t the only disappointing thing here. Five minutes in, I knew exactly where it was headed and how it was going to get there and that’s okay because I expected that. But the journey was predictable too and Cars, while witty and charming, isn’t so much so that it was easy to look past it completely. I liked a lot of the characters, but I wasn’t truly invested in them and that’s probably because the movie is too light for its own good, even for a kids flick.
Yet Cars has so much going for it, like the dead-on casting of Paul Newman as Doc Hudson, the always-reliable Bonnie Hunt as Sally Carrera, George Carlin as a hippie VW bus from the 60s (he cooks up his own organic fuel, man), Tony Shalhoub as an old Fiat by the name of Luigi and really, what Pixar film is complete without John Ratzenberger (this time lending voice to a truck named Mack). The gorgeous landscapes here remind you of motor parts and bodies. Flies are little tiny cars with wings. And just wait to you see the Cars universe’s version of cow-tipping.
Cars is a sweet film from that works as both a date movie and a family film. It’s not a homerun, but a liner up the middle. I’m not really a NASCAR fan, so maybe that’s part of the problem. Too many predictable left turns, not enough rights.