a critiQal film review Cars (2006)

Plot: Lightning McQueen (Wilson), a hotshot rookie race car driven to succeed, discovers that life is about the journey, not the finish line, when he finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy Route 66 town of Radiator Springs days before the biggest race of his life.

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  • ...Pixar makes an animated talking car have more presence on-screen than any number of overrated actors.

Heather and I, being huge fans of Pixar films, had been wanting to see the new film Cars ever since we first heard about it – but it seemed life was not going to let us. A sold-out theater opening weekend changed our plans, and we ended up seeing The Omen (2006) instead. Then, a minor case of the flu left us unable to hit the theaters this past weekend. After all that, we decided we weren’t going to wait another full week, and found time in our busy schedules to finally check out the film on a Thursday.

So, after all this, would Cars be able to live up to the standards that Pixar’s previous films (Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004)) have us demanding, or will this be the first major dip in Pixar’s amazing record of successes?

The first thing the viewer hears in Pixar’s Cars, before any picture is visible, is Owen Wilson reciting a mantra, apparently getting himself psyched up for a big race. So, the viewer instantly has an image of blond and goofy-looking Owen, and know that is the first thing they will see. But, as the picture clears, it is a car the viewer is greeted with – a red racecar with a mouth for a grill, and eyes for a windshield.

After that initial confusion, though, the viewer begins to accept Wilson as the voice of this Lightning McQueen. Maybe it’s just because Owen Wilson has been everywhere lately, since his major success with Wedding Crashers (2005). Whatever the case may be, once the viewer really gets involved in the film, the face behind the voice will slowly fade away. Thankfully, Owen Wilson is the only voice that will readily conjure up a face in the viewer’s mind, and the images of the other cars are not distorted by this in the least.

While Cars does seem to have a bit more of a moral than previous Pixar films, it presents it’s morals in a fun way, so the viewer’s enjoy themselves and learn the lesson Pixar wants to share. Pixar’s films always deal with the power of friendship to overcome all obstacles, but they usually manage to hide it a little better. In Cars, it’s more blatantly obvious.

Pixar still keeps more an adult view, however, bypassing easy jokes about bodily functions and so on that most animated films usually tend to get bogged down in, and tries to take more of a high road, using experiences in the film to show Lightning McQueen and the other cars overcoming prejudices and finding out they have a lot more in common than they think.

The real backbone of each and every Pixar film – and the reason they are such a huge success – is the three-dimensional characters that they are able to produce time and time again. There are no “cardboard cutouts” in their films, only characters with great depth and real personality. Because of their amazing ability to produce these fully-envisioned characters over and over again, people will flock to Pixar films as long as they make them.

That’s even more impressive when the viewer stops to think about it, as they have to overcome the visual obstacle as well – after all, their films usually don’t involve humans, and they are all completely computer animated. Makes you wonder why live-action films can’t produce more character depth, when Pixar can make an animated talking car have more of a commanding presence on-screen than Vin Diesel or any other number of overrated actors.

Unsurprisingly, Pixar’s Cars continues their unbelievable streak of great films. While Pixar did falter a little once with A Bug’s Life, they have since redoubled their efforts to make films that everyone will enjoy – and they have succeeded time and time again.

Cars entertains while teaching the age-old theme that with friends you can overcome anything. That theme is a Pixar staple, and they again manage to incorporate that into the story while keeping the film fun for the whole family.

Take your kids, or go by yourself – either way, be sure to check out Cars before it zooms out of theaters. And you’ll be back to pick this one up to own when it drives onto DVD.

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