Pixar on wheels
Cars is a 2006 computer-animated adventure comedy film directed by John Lasseter and features voice work from Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman, and Bonnie Hunt.The film is dedicated to Joe Ranft, who worked for Pixar Animation Studios and was killed in a car accident during production.
The general consensus seems to be that if one were to rank from best to worst all of Pixar's feature films leading up to the first Cars, then Cars would most likely be on the lower end of the totem pole. But in and of itself, Cars is not a bad movie. It's just that the six Pixar films preceding its initial release were just of such high quality that, of course, Cars looks kind of bad by comparison. One similarity between the first seven Pixar films is that they all experiment with objects/things and/or living creatures that are ubiquitous and have a special appeal to children. The first two Toy Story films center on the adventures of a select group of children's toys, while A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles focus on goofy bugs, goofy monsters, goofy fish, and goofy superheroes, respectively. Kids love to chase little bugs, and kids also love to play with little fish in a fish bowl. They also love to dress up and pretend to be their favorite superhero, and some kids fear that scary monsters are hiding under their bed. So we can cross off toys, bugs, fish, monsters, and superheroes, so cars would seem like the next natural selection, because what kid doesn't love to drive around in a toy car?
The animation of the cars is pretty much how you would imagine it would be if cars could actually talk. Their eyes are located where their windshield wipers would be, and they have mouths located on their front bumper. Everything else such as getting gas and tires is pretty much the same as it is in real life. But what's strange is that the film takes place in a world that is entirely populated by cars. Even flies look like tiny cars with wings. Okay, to be fair, there are also planes and helicopters, but my point is, there is only so much creative potential to be had when we aren't given the unique perspective of certain surroundings that Pixar has delivered several times before. In Toy Story, you can see the human world through the eyes of a toy. In A Bug's Life, tiny objects like leaves look massive because we see things from the bugs' perspective. In Cars, well, we see everything from a car's perspective, which isn't really any different from a normal human perspective. At least we get some cool establishing shots of the American Southwest.
The plot centers on the headstrong rookie racing car Lightning McQueen (no reference to Steve McQueen), who is racing for the coveted Piston Cup championship. The race ends in a three-way tie between McQueen, retiring veteran Strip "The King" Weathers (Richard Petty), and the brash Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton). A tiebreaker race between the three is scheduled for one week later in California. McQueen is desperate to get to California early and forces his big rig carrier, Mack (John Ratzenberger), to drive all night. Mack grows exhausted and later gets startled by a group of street racers who cause McQueen to fall out of the back of Mack's trailer and onto the road. McQueen tries to find Mack, but he eventually ends up in the run-down Radiator Springs. He inadvertently damages the main road of the town in the process. The towns-cars prevent McQueen from leaving until he fixes the road.
The story of Cars is not completely original with its central goal of, "self-centered person learns to realize that there's more to life than just themselves." Even so, it does follow this story-line quite well. McQueen is about as annoyingly pompous as can be in the first 45 minutes of the film, but his transformation is reasonably paced and he grows more likable as the film progresses.
- The most interesting character in the film, to me, is not Lightning McQueen, but the Hudson Hornet, Doc Hudson, being voiced by veteran Paul Newman. The character arc that he is given I found to be one that could have been a movie on its own. Watching McQueen's characterization is enough for a pleasant viewing every now and then, but Doc Hudson turned out to be a much more layered and memorable character, and I honestly wished that the movie spent more time on him than it actually did. Any and all emotional appeal in the film comes from Doc Hudson and his backstory.
- Normally, Pixar is very good with its family-friendly humor. Cars, however, is only scattershot funny with only some of its jokes landing. There are the usual subtle adult references, although some jokes don't require a whole lot of brain power to figure out. McQueen mentions the Piston Cup in one scene, to which Mater responds, "He did what in his cup?" (Get it? Because "Piston" sounds like "Pissed in"?) I always go into a Pixar film expecting to have a belly-laugh or two, because the humor in Pixar productions is always top-notch. Hey, I'll take corny puns over spineless fart jokes any day.
It might always remain one of the inferior Pixar films, but Cars is still an enjoyable and colorful animated flick that is bound to be a joy for the younglings, as well as a pleasing viewing for adults. It has a fond appreciation for older-style cars, and the setting gives you an imaginative appreciation for the countryside and the vast horizons of the American Southwest. One thing you can't deny; Pixar really knows how to make landscapes and giant cities look nice.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: