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CARS (G) (2006)


Official Site

Director: John Lasseter

Producer: Darla K. Anderson

Written by: Dan Fogelman, Kiel Murray, Philip Loren, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft

Cast: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry The Cable Guy, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, George Carlin, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, Jenifer Lewis, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the late Joe Ranft


As my main man, Mike Tenay, says once a month:

“The streak is intact!”

It has never applied more than it does here.

The Pixar animation production studio broke out in 1995 with the first-ever feature-length computer generated movie, Toy Story. Since then, Pixar has become a term synonymous with quality, and not only in animation. Great storytelling, compelling characters, competent writing, and creative genius are staples of the Pixar films. So while the art-form of the CG animated feature has taken over the world of mainstream animation—making 2-D and hand-drawn animated style features all but obsolete—Pixar still manages never to fail at delivering a complete and fulfilling cinematic experience. While Fox produces mediocre dreck like Ice Age 2, and Dreamworks does crap like Shark Tale and Madagascar, Pixar endures with the truly authentic modern day classics.

Cars is John Lasseter’s (vice president of Pixar) first time directing since Toy Story 2, which was one of the few exceptions to the rule that it is impossible to make a sequel just as good or superior to the original. And in many ways, Cars symbolically represents how far Pixar and Co. has come over the last ten years—from their humble roots at ILM when they were doing the computer effects for the Genesis Wave in Star Trek 2: Wrath Of Khan, to their numerous Academy Award nominations and wins.

Forget whatever doubts or pre-conceived notions you had about this movie, and forget the rumors, speculation, and conjecture. Like those for The Incredibles, the original trailers for Cars were met with lukewarm enthusiasm. Like Finding Nemo, it was delayed for a summer 2006 release, and there was talk of a lot of polishing and refurbishing. Some even suspected this might be a chink in Pixar’s galvanized armor. But once again, as with The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, Pixar proved all the doubters wrong, showing that their work is indeed fried gold.

Just as Toy Story creates a world where toys can talk, Monster’s Inc. creates a world where monsters really do come out of our closets, and The Incredibles creates a world where superheroes exist, with Cars Pixar creates for the first time in history a world where humans do not exist. Everyone and everything in the world of Cars is a motor vehicle, from the flies to the mountains by Route 66. And as implausible and hard-to-grasp as this might seem, you really can’t help getting drawn into this vast, endearing, charming world.

In Cars, the hot dog rookie, Lightning McQueen (Wilson), despite being a “one-man show,” blowing his tires in the last lap of the Piston Cup race, and generally not being a team player, manages to make the race a three-way tie with The King (Petty) and Chick Hicks (Keaton). After a mishap while riding on the rig of his truck/truck driver, Mack (Pixar feature staple, Ratzenberger), Lightning gets lost on Route 66 and ends up in the old, small town of Radiator Springs. After messing up their road, Lightning is charged by the town doctor/judge Hudson (Newman) and attorney Sally (Hunt) to fix it up before he can leave for L.A. to compete in the final tie-breaker race. Eventually, Lightning bonds with the town vehicles, starting with the tow-truck, Mater (Larry The Cable Guy).

One of the strongest themes in Cars and many Pixar features is not merely nostalgia, but the fear of becoming obsolete. This is depicted in the town of Radiator Springs, a proverbial isle of misfit automobiles, whose heyday has come and gone. Lightning, reluctantly or not, helps them find that “spark” again. And there’s more to Doc Hudson than meets the eye (AN: No, he’s not a Transformer).

As usual with Pixar’s output, you don’t have a film massively marketed and focused on marquee name and star talent. The movies are strong enough to get by on their own merit, unlike the CG animated feature releases from 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks. Here you have a great cast not being movie stars, but competent performers. I didn’t even realize that comedy legend George Carlin was the hippy Volkswagon until I saw the credits. Most of all, the voice acting here is a natural extension of the movie and doesn’t try to distract from the material.

The animation is stupendous, but, as always, it is really only the icing on the cake. However, the icing looks fantastic and tastes delicious. The “cars as people” touch is charming, and making the windshields the eyes instead of the headlights works very well. While it looks very “cartoony,” the animation and the great storytelling manage to keep you drawn into this world.

These days, studio executives seem to believe that movies need to be shorter to fill up as many screenings as possible in one day. Hence, they rush to put out short, hacked-together garbage. 20th Century Fox seems to believe movies aimed at a broader audience, such as X-Men 3 or Fantastic Four, can’t be longer than 95 minutes because they are for kids. But kids seem to like The Incredibles just fine even though it’s 115 minutes. And Cars, which I think is even longer than The Incredibles, never makes you feel like you are watching a two-hour movie. The audience, especially the kids, seemed pretty energized and invested the entire way through.

Many believed that Cars would mark the end of the six-film (not counting Toy Story 2) and 10-year relationship with Disney. Pixar would have separated completely and become its own entity, or would have found another studio to distribute its work. Instead, Cars marks a new beginning, as Disney and Pixar have recently merged and become one. Power has shifted, John Lasseter is now head of Disney animation, and it looks like some things might finally change for the better at the House of Mouse.

Some turn up their noses at this change of events. What they fail to understand is, like it or not, Disney is a nigh-impeccable brand name in the eyes of many. The label and fantastic distribution that Disney allotted to Pixar is not something Pixar truly wanted to lose. After the mainstream media positively predicted this absolute separation, no one can deny that this defines situational irony.

I, on the other hand, hopefully look forward to another decade of consistent greatness from Disney and Pixar.

As of today, Pixar remains the measuring stick for quality animation and stories in this wild world of Hollywood movies.


—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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