So how does Pixar keep hitting these animated features out of the park? The Shrek franchise may have had warning track power and the original Ice Age was a sharp single up the middle, but Pixar keeps smacking them into the stratosphere like Barry Bonds in a ‘roid rage. And why I am using so many baseball metaphors for a racing movie?
Cars is the latest entry in Disney/Pixar’s hyper-successful string of computer-animated features and, while it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of The Incredibles, it certainly stands equal to the other films in this distinguished collection.
Visually, the film may have your eyeballs leaping orgasmically around in your skull. The computer animation in this film is simply some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The shiny metal cars and expansive environments are worth feasting your eyes upon even if you have no interest in the movie itself.
The movie centers around a cocky young rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who’s locked in a three-way battle for the “Piston Cup” championship with “The King” (Richard Petty) and Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton). At stack is the valuable Dinoco sponsorship, which the winner will inherit when The King retires. It all comes down to a final race in California, but on the way, Lightning gets separated from his hauler, Mack (multi-film Pixar vet John Ratzenberger) and crashes (literally) into Radiator Springs, a forgotten little town on a neglected part of old Route 66.
He is sentenced to community service by Doc (Paul Newman), a ’51 Hudson Hornet and the town’s gruff judge. At the suggestion of Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), a Porsche from L.A. and the town’s only lawyer, Lightning is put to work repairing the town’s stretch of Route 66 in the hopes it will bring back the tourists and revive Radiator Springs.
The basic story has a lot in common with many animated features. The self-centered, win-at-all-costs Lightning is humbled and learns a life lesson about loyalty and respecting the place from which you came. What raises this film about others is the sharp writing (always a Pixar strength), A-list casting, intelligent humor and sharply drawn (not-so-literally) characters. Radiator Springs is a cuckoo’s nest of colorful archetypes.
At a shade under two hours, Cars is long for a Pixar movie and this is one factor that keeps the movie from being the equal of The Incredibles. It could stand to be a little shorter. Still, it’s funny enough and pretty enough to make a solid addition to the Pixar filmography (which receives a hilarious send-up at the end).