At the end of the animated Pixar logo (you know, the one with the hopping lamp), we are informed that Pixar Animation Studios is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. Has it really been that long? I guess it has, and the studio has built up a fine body of work that has set the standard for computer animated features. Disney has so benefited from their relationship with Pixar, that they bought them when contract negotiations stalled. Smart move.
One thing I have really liked about Pixar features (that few others seem to have a handle on) is that they focus first on the most important element of any film: the screenplay. It’s obvious that loving care goes into each of these scripts before they are greenlit and sent to animators. Why doesn’t anyone else get this? With the exceptions of those associated with Nick Park and Tim Burton, every other animated film seems to be rushed into production, hoping that the pretty pictures will compensate for inadequacies on the page. This is the main reason Pixar is king and will be for a long time to come.
Anyway, Cars is about a hot rookie race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) who has just managed a three-way tie for the coveted Piston Cup. A tie breaking race is scheduled a week later, and on the cross country trip, Lightning gets separated from his ride. He ends up in Radiator Springs, a small town in the middle of the desert. Here he is enlisted (against his will) by the gruff Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) to repave the main road before he is allowed to leave. Colorful car-acters fill the town, which Lighting starts to take a liking to. Will the hothead racer become grounded in something other than himself?
As expected, Cars looks breathtaking. Pixar must have the best digital artists in the world working for them, because their talent is all over the screen. The desert vistas look almost photo-realistic, and the cars themselves have unique and special personalities that perfectly mimic the actors voicing them. I was unsure how I’d take to “living” cars with big eyes in the windshield and bumpers for mouths, but my fears were quickly put to rest. Pixar has again created an alternate reality that may be far fetched, but is not beyond belief. And it’s fun, too.
The actors have fun with their roles, with Larry the Cable Guy’s buck-toothed Tow-Mater (he’s a tow truck that just goes by “Mater”) stealing every scene he’s in. The addition of Newman is clever, he being a racing afficianado. Bonnie Hunt is also good as the love interest (I know that sounds weird--fortunately the relationship never gets past first gear), and Wilson is a perfect fit as the cocky Lightning.
The movie is entertaining, and has the expected car references (I liked the “Cozy Cone” hotel with its pervasive pylon motif) you’d expect from Pixar. Again, the characters are so well-drawn that you can’t help but care what happens to them. It’s cute and enjoyable and perfect for kids of all ages.
It has been reported that the story for Cars is basically a remake of Doc Hollywood which starred Michael J. Fox. Since I didn’t like Fox in anything but Back to the Future, I never saw Doc Hollywood. Maybe that helped me like Cars more. It’s charming, sweet, amusing and has a good moral. It’s a kids movie that adults can enjoy. What more do you want from a family film?
P.S. Don’t go running from the theater when the credits roll. Pixar has some very funny material waiting that spoofs some of it’s earlier films, using the Cars universe.