***1/2 (out of 5)
June 9, 2006
Owen Wilson as LIGHTNING MCQUEEN
Paul Newman as DOC HUDSON
Bonnie Hunt as SALLY CARRERA
Larry the Cable Guy as MATER
Cheech Marin as RAMONE
Tony Shalhoub as LUIGI
Directed by: John Lasseter
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I have to admit that when I first heard about “Cars,” I was a bit nervous. There was something about this film that just didn’t seem right to me. Maybe I was afraid that Pixar was due for a bomb. Maybe I thought that the idea of anthropomorphic automobiles wouldn’t play as well as anthropomorphic bugs, toys or fish. Maybe it was because “The Incredibles” was such a great movie, the only place to go from there was down.
In any case, I went into the screening of “Cars” with some trepidation. However, when all was said and done, and the final credits started to roll, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
“Cars” tells the story of an up-and-coming race car named Lightning McQueen. He’s one of the coolest rookies on the racing circuit this year. In fact, he’s set to win the coveted Piston Cup (which, in the Car world is like winning NASCAR).
However, on his road trip to California for the big race, Lightning takes an unexpected detour through the sleepy town of Radiator Springs. He accidentally tears up the town and is sentenced to help rebuild everything he’s damaged. While working in the small town, he falls in love with the residents and the little burg itself, learning that there’s more to life than the fast lane.
The story is nothing new. In fact, I’ve seen the device used many times before, most notably in the Michael J. Fox film “Doc Hollywood.” But just because it’s been done before doesn’t make it a bad thing. There are reasons storylines become cliche.
Sure, the cars weren’t as cute as the creatures from the rival CGI movies out there right now, but they sure had a lot of personality. A lot of that is attributable to the voice cast, which includes Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen, Bonnie Hunt as Sally the Porsche and Larry the Cable Guy as Mater the tow truck.
Part of what also makes “Cars” work so well is that it taps into certain memories and emotions that different people have. There’s the obvious NASCAR appeal, but I’ve never been much of a racing fan. This actually contributed to my worries. While we can all remember playing with toys as a kid, which helped propel the “Toy Story” movies into the cultural mainstream, we don’t all watch stock car racing.
However, “Cars” tapped into something else for me – the open road. Because my wife is a teacher and I work from home, we have the luxury of enjoying road trips and vacations each year. We’ve driven out west multiple times, and we’ve taken the path off the interstate at times, running along the historic Route 66.
The fictitious town of Radiator Springs lies on the old Route 66, and it’s been bypassed by the interstate. But it holds all the charm and kitschiness of any stop along Route 66 in our humble human world. Any traveler should get a kick out of the road trip feel of this film. Additionally, the incredible CGI backgrounds show off a beautiful desert landscape that makes me long for another family road trip.
“Cars” isn’t as great as many other Pixar films, but it’s definitely in good company. And it’s better than most animated features out there. Whatever magic Pixar has in its coffers, it keeps working. John Lasseter was at the helm on this film, a position he hasn’t taken since “Toy Story 2.” It’s great to see him back in total creative control of the Pixar animated films. He’s a Walt Disney for this generation.
“Cars” is a very cute film. It’s got everything you’ve come to love about the Pixar films – great characters, plenty of family-oriented humor and eye-popping computer animation. The folks at Pixar have done it again, giving us a fun, family-friendly film rolling into the summer.