By Shawn McKenzie 06/11/2006
Pixar scores another one! While it’s no Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, Cars is yet another reason why Disney made a wise decision to keep Pixar on.
Hotshot custom Dodge Viper Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is a rookie racecar who is the newest and hottest car on the NASCAR circuit (keep in mind…everyone in this movie, from the racers, to announcers, to the fans, all live in an alternate universe where people are replaced by cars.) Unfortunately, he is so self-centered and full of himself that he has alienated his entire crew to the point that they have abandoned him. His pit crew now consists of only Mack (voice of John Ratzenberger), his transport truck. As the movie opens, Lightning is racing in the Dinoco 400 at MSS (the Motor Speedway of the South), the final Piston Cup race of the year, against two tough rivals. Legendary racing champion Strip “The King” Weathers (voice of retired NASCAR champion Richard Petty), is a 1970 Plymouth Superbird who is humble and loves his wife, Mrs. “The King” (voice of Lynda Petty, Richard’s real wife), a 1970 Mercury Villager/Mercury Marquis station wagon. Chick “Hicks” Murphy (voice of Michael Keaton) is a 1980s-style Buick Regal Stocker who is nasty and constantly cheats…yet he always seems to come in second (his grill looks like he has an evil-looking moustache.) As race announcer Bob Cutlass (voice of sports commentator Bob Costas), a 1999 Oldsmobile Aurora, and color commentator Darrell Cartrip (voice of retired NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip), a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba, call the race, the cars start their engines. It appears to be a three-way race after Chick creates a huge multi-car pileup, leaving himself, The King, and Lightening as the only cars left on the road. Since he is far ahead, Lightning refuses the services of his general pit crew to replace his tires and thinks that he can finish the race without stopping. His arrogance nearly costs him: he blows a tire and practically limps to the finish line. Chick and The King have caught up with him by this time, and a photo finish reveals that they all finished in a three-way tie, with Lightning finishing by a tongue. Kori Turbowitz (voice of Sarah Clark), the racing reporter, reports that there will be a race-off the following week in Los Angeles, so Lightning and Mack head off to the 200-lap deciding race to take place at the Los Angeles International Speedway. Lightning chats with his manager, Harv (voice of Jeremy Piven, a voice box who is channeling Piven’s Ari Gold character in the HBO series “Entourage”), who tells the hotshot that this race is important, because it means a lucrative sponsorship deal with Dinoco (the gas station from the first Toy Story movie.) Rusty and Dusty Rust-Eze (Tom and Ray Magliozzi, a.k.a. Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers…the hosts of NPR’s “Car Talk”), a couple of Dodges who are the sponsors of Medicated Bumper Ointment, will be there, waiting to sign a contract with whoever wins the race-off. Lightning really wants to get there first and get that sponsorship, because he doesn’t like shilling for a rust cream product and meeting rusty vehicle fans like a old rusty truck named Fred (voice of Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo), so he makes Mack drive through the night. The long hours makes Mack drowsy, and it doesn’t help that a group of street racing punks, led by DJ (voice of E.J. Holowicki), a Scion xB, tease him by playing Kenny G’s “Songbird” to make him even more sleepy. Mack swerves off the road, causing the sleeping Lightning to slip off the back onto the interstate highway. Once he realizes what has happened, he panics and looks around for Mack, which is hard, since his headlights are only painted on. He rip-roars up and down the legendary Route 66 and ends up being chased by the local Sheriff (voice of Michael Wallis, the author of Route 66: The Mother Road, a travel guide to the famous road), a 1949 Mercury Police Cruiser, which results in damage to the main highway of the sleepy town of Radiator Springs. Lightening is locked in the impound lot overnight with a boot on his tire, and the next morning, he is greeted by a friendly 1955 Chevrolet Pickup Wrecker Tow Truck named Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), who informs him that he is in Radiator Springs…the cutest little town in Carburetor County. He is soon brought before Judge Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman), a 1951 Hudson Hornet who is also a doctor of internal combustion, who throws out the case, once he realizes that Lightning is a racecar. The public defender Sally Carrera (voice of Bonnie Hunt), a 2002 Porsche 911 who used to live in L.A. but came through town one day and decided to stay, makes the convincing argument that Lightning should serve some public time fixing the damages. Besides…having a celebrity stay in their town might mean a boost in the revenue of the local businesses around town…once word gets out that the famous Lightening McQueen is helping the town out. Mater takes off Lightning’s boot and he speeds away, but he doesn’t get very far, because they have kept his gasoline supply limited to keep him from running away. They hook him up to a road-paving steamroller while the locals watch. Aside from Mater, who owns the wrecking yard, and Sally, who owns the Cozy Cone Motel aside from being the public defender, the other locals are a diverse colorful bunch. Hippie 1960 VW Bus Fillmore (voice of George Carlin) is the creator of a line of “organic fuels” and is fascinated by the town’s only stoplight (“I’m tellin’ ya, man, each blink is slower.”) Patriotic 1942 WWII Willys MB Army Jeep Sarge (voice of Paul Dooley) is Fillmore’s neighbor and the owner of Sarge’s Surplus Hut who is frustrated by his liberal friend, but he can’t live without him. Model T Ford Lizzie (voice of Katherine Helmond) owns Radiator Springs Curios, and she once dated the founder of the town named Stanley. 1959 Chevy Impala lowrider Ramone (voice of Cheech Marin), the owner of Ramone’s House of Body Art, is married to Flo (voice of Jenifer Lewis), the owner of Flo’s V-8 Café. 1959 Fiat 500 Luigi (voice of Tony Shalhoub), the owner of Luigi’s Casa Bella Tires, and his speedy loyal forklift assistant Guido (voice of Guido Quaroni), would love to service a Ferrari someday. Lightning can’t wait to finish his community service so that he can leave this one-car town, but he is soon charmed by the town. Mater takes him tractor tipping (which is like cow tipping, except it is making cow-acting tractors tip over when the two blow their horns…or revs his engine, since Lightning doesn’t have a horn.) Sally takes Lightning to see the beautiful scenery, and the two cars start to fall for one another. He also finds out a long-hidden secret about Doc Hudson, which makes him respect the old car even more. With less than a week away before the big race-off, Lightning starts becoming humbled and wonders if he really wants to leave the town.
Okay…I have a bone to pick with other critics in terms of their opinions of this movie. The first criticism I have is over the fact that they have said that this movie is surprisingly slow for a movie about fast cars. When I saw the movie for the first time over a week ago, I didn’t think that it was slow at all. Sure…It didn’t have the intense speed of The Incredibles, but I think that it was about the same speed as the other Pixar films. That leads into the second criticism I have seen…the length. At one hour and 56 minutes, it is a little longer than your average animated film, but if you consider that The Incredibles was one hour and 55 minutes, it’s not that bad. Maybe since it was slower than The Incredibles, it might explain the impatience of the other critics. At no time was I bored while watching it.
Writer/director John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Officer of both the Pixar and Disney animation studios, has returned to his director’s seat for the first time since 1999’s Toy Story 2 to helm this movie, which was supposed to be the last Pixar film produced for Disney. I think that he did a great job, because the visuals were stunning and the story was entertaining. I thought it cool that they put the eyes in the windshields instead of the headlights (which was inspired by Disney’s 1952 short Susie the Little Blue Coupe.) Sure…the plot did look like the 1991 Michael J. Fox comedy Doc Hollywood, but Disney has been adapting classic tales for years in their own unique style. So it isn’t a fairy tale this time…a good story is a good story.
The other thing that Pixar is good at is choosing great vocal talent. Wilson is actually more animated here as a cartoon car than he is in real life. Newman is one of those legendary voices that fit perfectly with his character (plus I love the inside joke thing that Pixar continues to do. He is a champion professional racecar driver in real life, having placed second in the 1979 Le Mans 24hr race in a Porsche 935.) I wasn’t sure about Hunt at first, but her character was sexier as a car than she is in real life (what is up with cartoons managing to successfully transform the image of actors?) I’m probably the only critic that actually likes Larry the Cable Guy, and this is one of the few roles he has done where he has drawn some praise from other critics, aside from just me, for being goofy and charming rather than just lewd. Ratzenberger has been in all of the Pixar movies, and he continues to be their “good luck charm.” There are so many funny small performances…from Carlin reprising his “Hippy Dippy” character to Shalhoub playing a very Italian vehicle…that I can’t spread the praise around enough.
Cars is another one of those animated films that you will enjoy, even without bringing your kids to see it. Obviously, kids will like the cute and silly characters, and adults will like the barrage of inside jokes (the flying VW beetles, the car puns, the now famous “outtakes” at the end), that it will be enjoyable for the young and young at heart. Be sure to stick around past the end credits to see a final scene where minivan tourists Minny (voice of Edie McClurg), a 1995 Ford Windstar, and Van (voice of Richard Kind), a 2005 Saturn Relay, find themselves in a bit of trouble. Also, make sure you arrive on time, because you wouldn’t want to miss the Oscar-nominated Pixar short One-Man Band, in which two one-man band players compete over a peasant girl’s gold coin, which she was originally going to throw into a fountain to make a wish. Whatever you do, make sure to drive over and check out this highly entertaining film.
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