Movie Review
Cars
2006
Director: John Lasseter & Joe Ranft
Cast: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt
B


i can’t help to wonder just what it is that compels a seemingly "mature" movie-goer like myself to continue to receive such a shameful high from childrens' films based mostly around would-be inanimate objects and fantastical creatures. Is it that these films appeal to the adult or the child in me? Pixar’s latest release, Cars, provides an answer to the question. Quite simply, these stories appeal to the escapist in all of us. Cars, being the first Pixar feature to abandon the "human" world completely, speaks volumes to this point.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Lighting McQueen. He’s a hotshot rookie racecar (which, appropriately, is the biggest sport in the world in this version of reality) who has dreams of becoming a superstar and has delusions that he can do it all by himself. The film opens with the biggest race of them all, The Piston Cup. When it ends in a three-way tie, a subsequent tie-breaker race is scheduled in California. Lightning, cocky as ever, orders his transport to head directly to California so he can be the first one there to schmooze with all the potential sponsors. On the way, he falls asleep (even though he promised he wouldn't!) and ends up detouring through the forgotten town of Radiator Springs on the infamous Route 66. In a late night sequence, only slightly less funnier than intended, he rips through the town in a half-conscious stupor both inadvertently introducing all of the supporting cast and destroying the main road in the process. After a small town trial—overseen by the dour Doc (Paul Newman)—and a diligent effort by the town lawyer, Sally the Porsche (Bonnie Hunt), Lightning is ordered to stay in the town, not allowed to leave until he restores the road to its original condition. After several escape attempts and general moaning about being held captive by "hillbillies," Lightning resolves to get the job done, get out of the town, and get to his race.


It is here where we learn about the make-up of this little town and become familiar with its inhabitants. Among many others, Lightning meets Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), a goodhearted, whistle-toothed tow truck who assigns himself as Lightning's new best friend. Slowly and predictably, Lightning becomes more and more a part of the town as he learns about its prosperous history and tragic downfall (once the interstate freeway was built).

Eventually, Lightning makes his way to California, the big race happens, there's a reunion, there’s redemption of characters, and there are lessons learned. “You can't always be thinking about yourself, kids.” “You've got to be part of a team, a community, the WORLD.” There's nothing wrong with sentiments like that. The problem I had with Cars is that its attempts at social commentary seem to fall down due to the blatant naivety and the good ol' boy faux-charm it wields so flippantly. The film clearly has a leg to stand on with its observations, but so seldom uses the other leg on which its point can be made effectively. You can hardly fault Cars for not doing a great job of this: its core demographic cares more about Dr. Seuss than Balzac. And, really, why should I? Like The Incredibles before it, what Cars lacks in raucous laughter, it makes up for in strong character development and a humorous sensibility that sustains much longer than it should.

Cars is playing in theaters across the country now.


By: Daniel Rivera
Published on: 2006-06-16
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