Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Pixar has pretty much figured this whole movie-making thing out, I imagine.  Seriously though, where have they gone wrong?  The worst Pixar created animation, arguably, is Monsters Inc., which is still miles better than Ice Age, Robots, Sharks Tale and the like.  After seeing the trailers for their latest creation, ‘Cars’, I was under whelmed to say the least.  These guys finally blew one.  Happens to the best of them, I would say.  After actually seeing the movie, I must reiterate:  These guys have this movie-making thing all figured out.  And John Lassiter is a god.  Not ‘THE’ God, mind you, but A god.  Like Apollo or Thor or something.

Owen Wilson voices Lightning McQueen, the hottest set of wheels on the Piston Circuit.  He’s on the verge of being the first rookie to take the Piston Cup.  Lightning is also a complete and totally selfish, self-serving jerk whom works without a pit crew because they tend quit after each race.  Due to a photographic dead heat between Lightning, The King (Richard Petty, of course) and the Overly Aggressive Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) there’s going to be a showdown race for the cup in California and Lightning is going to get there first to practice.  Circumstance, unfortunately, lands Lightning in the sleepy little town of Radiator Springs where he destroys some property, gets thrown into the lockup and is forced to do community service before he can continue on to his destination.

Here Lightning meets an eclectic group of cars including Sally Carrara (Bonnie Hunt), a sleek Porsche with a wingtail tattoo who was once a big city Lawyer.  Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), A folksy rusted out old tow truck, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), a curmudgeonly old judge who really has a disliking for racecars and a few other lively colorful characters.  It is in Radiator Springs that Lightning learns the important lessons about life, loyalty, friendship… yada yada yada… you know the routine.

One of the things that makes this story work, and it’s hard to believe, but by the time Lightning gets to Radiator Springs you forget that your watching animated cars with moving eyes on their windshields.  Director John Lassiter, who also directed both Toy Story movies and ‘A Bugs Life’ infuses his characters with such feeling, such emotion and such heart that there are scenes in this film that almost make you cry.  Of course I would never admit to such a thing, but men lesser than me will be shedding a tear or two before this thing is over. 

And oh the animation.  I’ve said this with each subsequent CG film. Ice Age 2 was the best looking animated film I’d seen until Over The Hedge which was the best until ‘Cars’.  Amazing animation from the water falls to the dirt roads.  To the glistening undercoats of the automobiles and the grooves in the tires to the lush trees of the forest, with nary a spared detail.  The voice work was simply outstanding with actors cast due their ability to deliver a performance, and less what their names look like on a marquee.   The only possible fault I can find with the film is that you would probably enjoy it even more if you’re a NASCAR fan.  I’m not and I thought the movie was fantastic.  A friend asked me if it was better than ‘The Incredibles’, which is his top Pixar film (mine is ‘Finding Nemo’ with ‘The Incredibles’ a close second).  Truthfully, no, in my opinion it’s not as good as those two films, but in the same sense that ‘The Godfather II’ isn’t as good as ‘The Godfather’.  They are all great movies.  And some people DO think ‘Godfather II’ is better than ‘The Godfather’.

I could go on and on lauding the little clever details that pepper the story or the ability of Mister Lassiter to take a fairly worn premise and make it seem as if it’s never been done before, but I’d rather you go see it yourself, even if you don’t have kids.  If you’re embarrassed going to a ‘kids’ movie by yourself, I’ll lend you mine.  As long as you bring him back.  Eventually.

Buds Second:  The first five minutes spent watching Cars, you are thinking to yourself, "This is silly. I'm sitting here watching a cartoon about NASCAR, and I don't even like NASCAR." But after those first five minutes, you realize the story isn't really about NASCAR, and you can actually feel yourself being sucked into the world of Cars. In this world, cars are like people: they have thoughts and feelings, jobs and relationships, they organize to form governments, etc. And the top-of-the-heap celebrity car in this world is Lightning McQueen, the rookie racing sensation who finds himself on the verge of winning the championship of racing. Only thing is, Lightning is self-centered and immature, and like many so-called adults in our world, really hasn't developed any people skills to speak of. So when, by some twist of fate, he finds himself in the backwater town of Radiator Spring (a town left or dead when they put the new highway in a few years ago), where none of the citizenship know him or even care that he's a bigwig in the rest of the country, he's got a lot of growing up to do.

This really is a very good movie, children's storytelling at or near  its best. The characters are very well developed, and the story moves along a nice pace. It is a charming story, with charming people (err, cars). It's a human story, without humans being involved (catch the irony?).  And the animation is really top-notch, with terrific landscapes and no detail left untouched.

Cars is a genuine Pixar movie, clearly worthy of the brand that Pixar has created for itself (as the cream-of-the-crop in animated movies). Chris is right with his review, that it's not up there with the elite Pixar movies (Incredibles and Nemo), but it is by far the best we have seen since those two. So I recommend you take Chris' kids, and go see this movie!

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