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Cars (2006).

January 2, 2007

The Scoop:
Never mind the marketing blitz, and don’t think of “Cars” as a kids’ movie so much as a grown-up movie that just happens to be animated. While it’s obviously meant to be enjoyed by children, there is plenty here for adults to enjoy as well, without feeling “talked down to.”

This is the story of arrogant young race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) who learns a few lessons in maturity after taking a wrong turn on the way to his next big race and winding up stranded in the all-but-forgotten Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. Onto this simple framework, John Lassiter and the rest of the Pixar crew hang a wealth of rich characterizations, satirical jabs and terrific dialogue.

After the thrillingly-staged opening race sequence, which features a host of cameo appearances and pokes plenty of gentle fun at Nascar Nation, the film settles down and spends the bulk of its nearly two hour running time in Radiator Springs. The young ones might find their attention wavering a bit here, but the grown folks will appreciate the tribute to Route 66 and mid-20th century automobile culture, as well as the eccentric characters who populate the town. Foremost among these are Doc (Paul Newman), Sally (Bonnie Hunt), Flo (Jennifer Lewis), Ramon (Cheech Marin), Fillmore (George Carlin) and Luigi (Tony Shaloub). And then it’s all capped off with another great final racing sequence, in which McQueen gets to apply all the life lessons he learned in Radiator Springs.

The animation is top-notch, taking several steps ahead of the animation in previous Pixar efforts. Especially breathtaking is the photo-realistic background work.

As great as “Cars” is, it’s not without it’s flaws, however. Many of the Radiator Springs scenes don’t advance the story as efficiently as they could, and then there’s the subpar soundtrack. (Do we really need another bland cover of “Route 66”?)

But these are just minor quibbles. “Cars” is a winner.

Best Bit:
There’s tons of great stuff here, but as with any Pixar movie, stick around through the entire end credits, where some of the best gags can be found. My favorite is the self-referential tribute to the past Pixar voice work of John Ratzenberger (who plays Mack the truck here).

Side Note:
The voice of the Sheriff is provided by Route 66 historian and author Michael Wallis, who got the gig by serving as a tour guide for the Pixar creative team as they took a pre-production research tour of several towns along the highway.

Companion Viewing:
“Toy Story” (1996).


Take a Look:
Meet the cast!

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