Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Cars – NASCAR, Pixar Style

Written by John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Jorgen Klubien, Dan Fogelman, Kiel Murray, & Phil Lorin
Directed by John Lasseter & Joe Ranft

Pixar Studios seems to have a magic touch. Right from their debut in big-screen animation with Toy Story, they have been putting out creative, imaginative animation films that generally work as well for adults as well as the children who drag them to the theaters. Their latest offering, Cars is no exception.

Cars is the story of racing rookie sensation Lightning McQueen. No, Lightning isn’t a NASCAR driver like Tome Cruise’s Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder. Lightning is the actual car and inhabits a world where cars seemingly race on their own without drivers. The cars in the film are all drawn with mouths where the grills are and eyes on the windshield. They also have individual personalities.

Lightning’s personality is a cocky rookie. He ends up in a three-way tie for the much-heralded Piston Cup. A tie-breaker race will be run in California to decide the winner. Meanwhile, he has gone through several pit crews over the course of the racing season and has his eyes set on sponsorship from “Dynaco”. These concern him more than anything else.

On the way to California, a mishap has him end up in the town of Radiator Springs along the old Route 66. It’s a town left behind by time since the interstate was put in and stopped traffic from coming through the town. It’s a throwback to the fifties, complete with a drive-in burger joint and all the neon that used to be present and just hasn’t been lit in many years. Like all of this world, it’s entirely occupied by automotive beings with nary a human to be found. The town has been living a life of solitude with little to no visitors until Lightning happens into town and tears up the main strip, literally.

What follows is a time of growth for Lightning. It’s something that’s very predictable, while at the same time being such a sweet story with valuable lessons for kids about taking responsibility for yourself and your actions and how they affect people that you encounter. The main story questions whether Lightning will make it to the Piston Cup race and if he’ll win. Will he also lose all the growth he made during his time in Radiator Springs and revert back to who he was before he went there or will he rise to the challenge and show evidence of being a better “car” in the long run? Will he drop his friends from Radiator Springs once he’s back in circulation with people who adore him, but none of which he really considers to be his “friend”?

All of us thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was charming and sweet with a good story. It’s got the marketing tie-ins, of course. In case you haven’t set foot in your local Wal-Mart, I am sure there are tons of items from Cars and my son already has several of the figures as well as a chair.

Owen Wilson handles the voice for Lightning McQueen and he does a good job. He has a calm certainty to his voice that suit’s the overconfident rookie very well. Paul Newman is the veteran Doc Hudson and comes off with the authority of someone who’s been-there, done-that without lording it over everyone around him. He has the right amount of inflection in the voice that it doesn’t seem like he wants to be the unofficial leader of the town, but he’s that way because of the natural way he’s commanded respect from those around him.

Bonnie Hunt is Sally, the town lawyer, motel operator, and Lightning’s “love interest”. She is savvy and confident without losing any femininity. Larry the Cable Guy handles the voice of Mater, who befriends Lightning when he comes to town. He’s a loyal but affable redneck and watches out for throwaway lines that are known from his comedy show. Tony Shalhoub is immediately recognizable as the voice of Luigi, as is Cheech Marin as the voice of Ramone. Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger is also here as Mack, the truck originally transporting Lightning.

There are voices here from the racing world as well. Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Mario Andretti all make cameos.

The soundtrack is great. Rascal Flatts performs its own version of Tom Cochran’s Life Is a Highway and though I like Cochrane’s version better, this version is a bit smoother on vocals end has sucked in my kids who have been singing it. There are also songs by Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, and Chuck Berry’s version of Route 66.

The animation is high-quality and smooth. I still prefer the traditional hand-drawn animation to the computerized animation, but this style is growing on me fast. I think a lot of it has to do with the genuine quality stories Pixar has put out. Each of the vehicles in Cars seems to have its own style suited both to the character and voice. Lightning is a good-looking car with aerodynamic curves and lines – he has the look of something fast that races hard. Sally is a cute blue sports car, while Mater appears as a beat-up truck. Doc has classic looks and lines to him that don’t reveal the truth of his life but suit him fine once we learned the entire story.

My eleven-year-old daughter likes the film as much as my son, so Cars is something that crosses gender and age. They are already looking forward to getting it on DVD when it comes out. NASCAR fans will probably be as giddy as if they were at a race while watching it – it’s that fun. Both of the adults in our party enjoyed it thoroughly. It was great fun for our family and I found nothing objectionable in it. Make it a point to see this the next day you want to spend indoors this summer.

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