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Pixar Films on DVD: Toy StoryA Bug's LifeToy Story 2Monsters, Inc.Finding NemoThe IncrediblesCarsRatatouilleWALL•EUp
Pixar Films on Blu-ray: Toy Story • A Bug's Life • Toy Stor 2 • Monsters, Inc.Cars • Ratatouille • WALL•EUp

Cars: Screening Review

"Cars" movie poster Cars

Theatrical Release: June 9, 2006 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: John Lasseter / Co-Director: Joe Ranft

Voice Cast: Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Paul Newman (Doc Hudson), Bonnie Hunt (Sally Carrera), Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), Cheeck Marin (Ramone), Tony Shalhoub (Luigi), Guido Quaroni (Guido), Jenifer Lewis (Flo), Paul Dooley (Sarge), Michael Wallis (Sheriff), George Carlin (Filmore), Katherine Helmond (Lizzie), John Ratzenberger (Mack), Bob Costas (Bob Cutlass), Michael Keaton (Chick Hicks), Ray Magliozzi (Clunk), Tom Magliozzi (Clink), Edie McClurg (Minny), Richard Petty ('The King' Strip Weathers), Darrel Waltrip (Carrel Cartip)

By Aaron Wallace

Pixar has done it again. That's what I was hoping to be able to say about Cars, the studio's seventh feature film and first to be released since the merger of Pixar and its distributor, the Walt Disney Company. Unfortunately, Pixar has not done it again -- they haven't even come close.

What is "it" that they've failed to achieve? If you've seen any of their past efforts, then you probably already know -- it's that special blend of masterful storytelling and animation that made everything from Toy Story to The Incredibles box office mega-hits and critical darlings.

Cars is the story of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), a hotshot racecar whose career stock is rising. On his way to a tie-breaking race for the esteemed Piston Cup, an interstate accident leaves him stranded in the long-forgotten community of Radiator Springs. Lightning finds himself under the scrutiny of the Route 66 town's law enforcement thanks to a sly attorney and soon-to-be love interest, Sally (Bonnie Hunt). While carrying out his sentence, he gets to know Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), an older car with a mysterious past, and befriends a beat-up tow truck by the name of Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Most of the movie unfolds inside this "Hillbilly Hell," where Lightning learns what it means to be a star and a friend.

Lightning McQueen, the accused flashy red racecar, sits between Sally (left) and rusty but trusty tow truck Mater (right) in Disney/Pixar's seventh feature-length collaboration, "Cars."

Each of Pixar's films have been told from a unique perspective, be it that of a toy, bug, monster, or fish. While its immediate predecessor, The Incredibles, was the first to put humans in the leading role, Cars is the first to take place entirely outside the human world. Everyone in the film -- from the racers to the spectators -- is a car. There's no suggestion of even an unseen human presence and that, along with the apparent difficulty of animating automobiles and a lack of characterization, makes the world of Cars a less accessible one.

Cars is cut from the same buddy comedy mold as the studio's previous films, Finding Nemo in particular. No, there isn't a search for a lost companion, but the presence of a joke-dispensing and comically aloof sidekick seems inexplicably similar to Nemo. Even moreso than Dory, Mater steals the show. Nearly every punch line comes from the bewildered tow truck, whose comedic styling is exactly that of the comedian who provides his voice, Larry the Cable Guy. Those who are familiar with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour that made him famous know that his content is similar to the "redneck" jabs of his co-comedian, Jeff Foxworthy. That and a story that centers on professional racing (not to mention a voice cast that includes a long list of professional race car drivers) makes this a film custom-made for a very specific demographic.
A Southerner myself, I can appreciate Larry's humor and at least get Cars' jokes, but I didn't find them particularly funny and I'm not sure that those outside of NASCAR's most popular markets will relate at all. That's a major shift from the studio's usual ability to appeal to a vast and varied audience. It's not the only disturbing departure either.

Pixar has been lauded for its ability to resist the pitfalls of other CGI animation powerhouses, yet Cars somehow manages to stumble on nearly every one. Innuendo, though mild it may be, makes its Pixar debut here, as do gas jokes (and not the kind you might expect from the title). Pop culture references stray from subtle and clever to obvious and distracting. The casting seems to have been inspired not by the actors’ suitability for the role but rather by their Hollywood clout. Owen Wilson has been arrogant in past roles, Paul Newman a tough guy, and Bonnie Hunt a quick-witted quipper, but none are in their respective fortes despite similar typecasting. Larry the Cable Guy isn’t bad but comes in excess. The shining stars are in the supporting roles — Jenifer Lewis and Tony Shalhoub are funny in their small parts – but the leads sound as though they were as bored recording the movie as I was watching it.

Lightning and Sally drive together in the impressively-realized great outdoors.

Cars starts as a high-speed blast but quickly runs out of gas. Plot is minimal, leaving the majority of the run-time stuck in the mud. Where’s the thrill? Where’s the adventure? They’re probably the same place that rich characterization and emotional connection are hiding -- in some other movie. In the meantime, there’s not much left in this film to compel.

Now, it’s not all bad. The animation in particular is astounding. As noted earlier, the cars just don’t lend themselves to humanizing the way creatures of a more similar anatomy have in the past,
Blockbuster_convenience man3_static_300x250 - 7.30.4
leaving each character to look more like the next than is preferred, just one of the things that makes the world of Cars feel off-beat. Everything else, though, adds up to Pixar’s best work to date. The roads and scenery in Cars look so real that they could practically have come from high-quality film stock and no one would know the difference. That alone makes the movie worth acknowledging. A few winning moments of emotion, both comedic and dramatic, stand out, as do a couple of truly unexpected twists, but neither prove to have any lasting power.

Pixar’s track record has already bested even that of Walt Disney himself, so they were overdue for a misstep. Still, it pains me to have to report that they’ve finally made one. I didn’t go into Cars with expectations too high...something closer to the opposite is more accurate, but I wasn’t anticipating failure either. In fact, I would say my pre-viewing disposition was as objective as it’s ever been and yet Cars still disappointed. The studios’ fans will still want to give them the fair shot they deserve and it’s likely that audiences will still take the movie out for a box office spin. When it comes to the story and its execution, however, Cars feels too much like a low-end rental after ten years of riding around in the luxury class.

Reviewed June 1, 2006.

Cars Movie Tie-In Merchandise
Order "The Art of Cars" from Amazon.com Order "Cars: The Essential Guide" from Amazon.com Order the "Cars" Soundtrack from Amazon.com Order the Fast Talking' McQueen toy from Amazon.com Other Cars Tie-ins:
Power Wheels Lightning McQueen car
Lightning McQueen's Fast Tracks CD
Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures CD-ROM
Shake 'n Go Mater toy
Radio-Controlled Super Tow Mater
Cars "Dirt" Racetrack Set
The Art of Cars
160 pages, hardcover
Chronicle Books
Cars: The Essential Guide
48 pages, hardcover
DK Books
Cars: Soundtrack
score by Randy Newman;
songs by Rascal Flatts,
John Mayer, Sheryl Crow,
Chuck Berry, Brad Paisley,
The Chords and James Taylor
Fast Talkin' McQueen
large-scale talking car toy
15 stunts/tricks and >30 phrases
14" x 7.7" x 7.5"
More Cars Books:
Cars: The Junior Novelization
Cars: Ultimate Sticker Book
Learn to Draw Cars
Cars: Read-Aloud Storybook
Cars: Little Golden Book
Cars: Join the Pit Crew

Click to view UD's report from the "Cars" World Premiere in Charlotte
Read UD's report from the Cars World Premiere with pictures and video

More on Cars:
Guide to the Coolest Cars Movie Tie-Ins
Preview of Cars and other upcoming Disney movies
Report from Cars Road Trip '06 nationwide tour
2005-06 Animation Preview: Leroy & Stitch, Cars

Other Pixar Films Reviewed on DVD:
Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition DVD Review
Toy Story 2: 2-Disc Special Edition DVD Review
The Incredibles DVD Review

UltimateDisney.com | Reviews | DVDizzy.com: DVD/Blu-ray Schedule | Pixar & Other Theatrical Animation | Upcoming Disney DVDs | Search

Pixar Films on DVD: Toy StoryA Bug's LifeToy Story 2Monsters, Inc.Finding NemoThe IncrediblesCarsRatatouilleWALL•EUp
Pixar Films on Blu-ray: A Bug's LifeMonsters, Inc.Cars • Ratatouille • WALL•EUp

Images © 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios. All rights reserved.