U.S. Release Date: June 9, 2006
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: John Lasseter
Writer: Dan Fogelman, John Lasseter (story)
Producer: Darla K. Anderson
Composer: Randy Newman
Cast: Owen Wilson (Voice), Paul Newman (Voice), Bonnie Hunt (Voice), Larry the Cable Guy (Voice), Michael Keaton (Voice)
Running Time: 1 hour and 56 minutes
MPAA Rating: G

Strong Visuals Offset Pixar’s Weak Story
by Scott Holleran

The computer-animated Cars is a nontoxic glug of nostalgia pumped with bromides about aging and sportsmanship and textured with Pixar's refined animation. One of the year's most heavily hyped movies is stubbornly stuck in neutral.

Zipping into gear with Owen Wilson's voice as red racing car Lightning McQueen, Cars traces a trio of hot wheels, including a good blue car (voiced by ace driver Richard Petty) and a nasty green one (Michael Keaton, nicely done). The threesome is wedged in serious track competition, which starts the story's engine and, later, furnishes a Finish line. Racing scenes are fast and exciting. Only every other word is audible.

But, as every roadster knows by now, Lightning gets himself stuck in Radiator Springs, a town ghosted when the interstate highway replaced the famous Route 66 (in the movie, that's a bad thing). Hanging out there is like cruising the boulevard night after night, with a collection of fine veteran actors' voices in puny roles.

Characters include several stereotypes—a low-rider named Ramone, a dumb, old Southern tow truck with buck teeth, a curvy Porsche—and Paul Newman's rough, old Hudson, who hides a past that figures neatly into getting things back on track. Lightning, having unintentionally wrecked the town's road upon his arrival, must repair the damage.

Like Robots, an all-car cast has limited appeal. It isn't that cars are not cute or capable of expression. What makes them funny or poignant—the human touch—is a chronic reminder that it is not real. A world of cars may look neat, and these cars do, especially Lightning's body makeover, but it makes the movie's already tentative context hard to hold.

Tiny buzzing Volkswagen Beetles and tire tracks in the sky may score storyboard laughs, but they do not advance the story. Lacking humans, a first for a Pixar picture, Cars too frequently runs on fumes.

Wilson's speedy Lightning doesn't fill 'er up. He's fast, brash and stuck in a charming, small town with the usual assortment of characters, and he's bound to appreciate their virtues, but this dude's been done a thousand times. There's no Andy (Toy Story), not even a baby Boo (Monsters, Inc.), to give Lightning a flash of reality.

Pixar's magic, powered by Disney's new animation chief, director John Lasseter, pops in and out with clever lines, sight gags and strong emotional pull. The catchy pop-country soundtrack fits the movie. It's not loaded with adult jokes and it's still a better way to kill a couple of hours than the usual trash. Inviting Western landscapes and golden roads and backdrops are well done. Light, sound and color are as crisp as an Arizona dawn.

Through no fault of the animators, who do what they can to make the cars compelling and often succeed, both plot and characters are weak and the cluttered story is marginally interesting—nostalgia with an anti-growth twist topped off with a racing rematch and romance. This model has just two speeds: dizzyingly fast and agonizingly slow. Cars drags and putters when it should zoom and it whizzes by when it should brake.

But a fleet of vehicles sputtering at one another for two hours is an accomplishment only Pixar could master and Pixar's pit stop crew produces more of the same, albeit in smaller measure. Its Cars are as shiny as a new automobile and barely worth taking out for a slow, summer spin.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
Wanting to like it better a second time, Cars doesn't slide into gear much easier on DVD, though the format invites closer inspection and appreciation of the excellent automotive animation and details such as "braking news" and Sally's motel's Lincoln Continental breakfast. Press the pause button as it scrolls down the wall of bumper stickers for some clever lines.

A line about the Interstate Highway cutting through versus Route 66 moving with the landscape—form follows function—might have worked better had it been developed but, as it is, the story lacks conflict.

The DVD premiere's spare parts suggest that double dipping may lie down the road but, frankly, a disc that keeps things simple is rather refreshing. The highlight is Inspiration for Cars, creator John Lasseter's reminiscent take on the movie, which includes a glimpse of his father, Paul, a Chevrolet parts manager, and men who wear Jack Daniels logos with names like Humpy Wheeler who are involved with the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

The widescreen edition includes a few deleted scenes in sketches, One Man Band the cynical, very European animated short which accompanied this summer release, an amusing new short featuring the tow-truck character, Mater and the Ghostlight, previews of Pixar's Ratatouille and Disney's upcoming Platinum Edition DVD for Peter Pan and a separate feature of the movie's closing gag sequence without the end credits. The main menu includes time stamps—an extremely useful and underused DVD tool.

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