Pixar is one of the few studios that seems to understand how to tell a story, even though it’s been told before, in a refreshing way with sympathetic characters even though they’re, you know, animated. After coming off two truly fantastic films, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, it is no surprise that their latest offering, Cars, is being held to a very high standard.
The Big Question is: Is Cars as good as other Pixar offerings?
Unfortunately, it’s not. The formula seems a little more forced here, like they’re stretching for the emotional resonance, whereas in other Pixar movies it came more naturally.
But, is Cars better than most other animated movies? Yes, because even though the formula falters here, Pixar still knows how to make a funny, entertaining movie without resorting to big names and pop culture jokes to bring in the audience.
Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is a self-absorbed rookie racecar who’s only a week away from being the first rookie to win the prestigious Piston Cup…or so he thinks. He gets separated from Mack, his transport truck, and in a mad dash to find the interstate Lightning gets stopped for speeding and tearing up the main street in the tiny town of Radiator Springs, appropriately populated by several endearingly quirky small-town characters.
Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), the town’s doctor/judge/head honcho, sentences Lightning to repave the road, depriving Lightning of precious time he could be spending in California wooing Dinoco, the racing world’s biggest sponsor. However, after a few days in Radiator Springs, Lightning just might start questioning which is more important in life: fame or friends.
Not the most original moral to a story, but an effective one nonetheless.
As usual, the voice cast is impeccable. Owen Wilson is less California surfer-dude than usual and just perfect for Lightning McQueen, and Paul Newman brings a wonderful sense of authority to Doc Hudson, the judge/doctor/head honcho of Radiator Springs. I’ve never really noticed the gravitas in his voice, but it certainly comes through in this movie.
One name that’s quite familiar to those of us in the South (or anybody who’s watched the Redneck Weekends on Comedy Central) is Larry the Cable Guy, a comedian whose hick drawl provides the voice of Mater, a rusty old tow truck. For the most part he’s good, but when the script allows for Larry to utter two of his catch-phrases, it’s hard to resist rolling your eyes. (I never want to hear the phrase “git-r-done” again as long as I live.) For the briefest moment, it’s Larry the Cable Guy and not Mater, which sours the experience a little.
The best characters, though, are two sets of supporting ones: Guido and Luigi, two Ferrari-obsessed Italian cars who own the tire store, and Sarge and Fillmore, an Army Jeep and a tie-dyed VW van, respectively. Memorable supporting characters have always been an area where Pixar excelled, and Cars is no different in that respect.
The animation is nothing short of amazing. There are so many parts where it’s so vivid it’s stunning, especially at the track that’s the setting for the climactic tie-breaking race. The racing scenes themselves are breathtaking. The humor is also aimed a little more at adults (okay, a lot more), and there were several times that we were laughing more than the kids.
So what’s the problem? If everything is working, why isn’t Cars on par with the other Pixar movies?
For one, it’s the first time it ever feels like they’re following a formula. It’s also the first time that the story gets a little heavy-handed and schmaltzy in trying to tug at the heartstrings, not nearly as bad as in other movies, but it still grates a little on the nerves, especially in the Route 66 driving scene with Lightning and Sally. Sometimes a niggling question of “so what?” surfaced in my mind, because while the moral of the story works, the “small towns are better than big cities” idea that permeates it is cliché and annoying.
Is Cars worth the price of admission? Certainly. It’s visually gorgeous, funny, and involving. Just don’t go in expecting something on the level of Finding Nemo and you might just have a grand old time.
From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.