Summer Movie Showdown: "Cars" Review

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Hotshot rookie race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is living life in the fast lane until he hits a detour on his way to the most important race of his life. Stranded in Radiator Springs, a forgotten town on the old Route 66, he meets Sally, Mater, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), and a variety of quirky characters who help him discover that there's more to life than trophies and fame.
3.5

Summer Movie Showdown: "Cars" Review

-- Rating: G
Length: 117 minutes
Release Date: June 9, 2006
Directed by: John Lasseter and Joe Ranft
Genre: Animation/ Adventure / Comedy

Pixar quickly reached fame after the success of "Toy Story" and other animated classics, and "Cars" continues the trend. The movie combines action and adventure with classic storytelling and top-notch animation to create a fun romp for the whole family. Moviegoers of all ages are likely to appreciate the animation and delicate handling of a fairly involved story. "Cars" is a great choice for family viewings or children's parties, though many fans of older American films may see the return of certain story elements as more lazy than nostalgic.

"Cars" focuses on the adventures of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), an up-and-coming racecar who finds himself in the town of Radiator Springs. The small-town community is home to Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), and a host of other vehicles who live life off the beaten path. This is not entirely by choice, as the town is situated along the famous Route 66 in an area bypassed by the interstate system. The city has become rundown due to an absence of visitors, and the cars have come to accept that fewer and fewer people are coming to the area. McQueen finds inspiration and learns life lessons in a style reminiscent of many classic films.

The voice acting in the movie is some of the best around. Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy steal the show at almost every turn, while Newman and Hunt provide excellent supporting characters throughout the film. The other residents of Radiator Springs also enjoy excellent voice work from the likes of Cheech Marin, Michael Wallace, George Carlin, and Paul Dooley. The many cameo appearances are of special note, as famous stars such as Bob Costas and Darrel Waltrip sneak in and out of many scenes without disrupting the flow of the film or the story as a whole. Older viewers in particular are likely to enjoy watching the film and attempting to find all of these interesting cameo appearances.

The animation of the film set the bar for years to come. Simple stylistic changes, including eyes in the windshields and mouths for grills, allow car fans to recognize the general make of each vehicle. Each car's personality seems to stem largely from perceptions of its real-life counterpart, with no jokes spared on behalf of the Volkswagen bus or military Jeep. This attention to detail is likely to impress many parents who are seeing the movie for the first time. The lighting and effects are exceptionally well done, with particle effects in some racing scenes worthy of the greatest simulators and computer-generated image technology available. Likewise, the scene transitions are so fluid that they are almost unnoticeable in many instances. This mirrors filmmaking from a time before music videos and other short-attention-span media and is also likely to impress older moviegoers.

The story is a heartfelt tale that borrows exceptionally heavily from earlier titles. While "Toy Story" was an homage to both Western and Sci-Fi films with obvious inspiration from "The Secret Life of Toys," "Cars" lifts its plots almost wholesale from a few classic films. The nods to "Doc Hollywood" are especially glaring; they are not only inspired by the film but follow almost too closely to make many fans of the earlier films nostalgic. The script itself is tightly written and allows plenty of room for humor alongside classic storytelling patterns. The story has elements of the hero's journey and other well-known classic story devices throughout. The exceptionally heavy reliance on tropes and plotlines from earlier films keeps it from reaching its full potential, however.

John Lasseter and Joe Ranft shared the direction of the film. They managed to capture some of the best voice acting and most memorable animated scenes out there. The duo coaxes exceptional voice acting from seasoned talent and cameo superstars alike, and they seem to have a stunning grasp of storyboarding and plot development for animated films that comes across nicely for the audience. The heavy-handed use of plot elements from other films may arise from the script, but Lasseter and Ranft lessen the blow by ensuring that these elements are treated with their full gravitas on the screen.

The borrowing of plot devices and storylines from earlier films does not mar the overall experience greatly. "Cars" is still a great choice for children and the young at heart alike, and it is sure to find a home on the shelves of Pixar fans and car aficionados alike. With its down-home message and inspirational look at both small-town life and the modern racing scene, "Cars" provides a wonderful moviegoing experience for all ages.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5