1 hour, 57 minutes
Animated films, even the best of the lot, rarely tackle themes of any real depth. On the surface, Pixar films would seem to follow the trend. For example, it would seem the overriding message of “The Incredibles” is that it’s OK to try your best and to be special. “Finding Nemo:” family is best. “Toy Story:” we get by with a little help from our friends. And so on.
Ah, but that’s just on the top layer. There is much more going on below the surface of these films than meets the eye, which is why, I think, they rise so far above the field. “The Incredibles” is a comment on aging and finding your place when you’re past your prime. “Finding Nemo” tackles dealing with the death of a loved one, and “Toy Story,” with it’s themes of betrayal, revenge, torture, renewal, rebirth, and the nature of reality, could as easily have been written by William Shakespeare or Franz Kafka. In a word, these movies are deep. I am happy to report that, though an early and substandard trailer caused much consternation, Pixar’s latest creation, “Cars,” follows the tradition of excellence set forth by its predecessors. And it’s fun.
It’s almost ironic that a company that has made its name on miraculous technical achievements in film would produce a movie lambasting the rapid technological progress of our culture, but in “Cars,” Pixar has done just that. The ever laconic Owen Wilson is the voice of Lightening McQueen, the hottest new rookie race car on the circuit. I doubt I would have ever paired Wilson, known for playing laid-back slackers, with a character named Lightening, but here it works great, especially when he adds a hint of self-assured smugness early on.
Lightening is on his way to compete in the biggest race of his life when he gets waylaid in tiny Radiator Springs, once a hot-spot on the fabled Route 66, made a ghost town with the onset of the freeway system, which bypassed many small western towns in favor of expediency. After accidentally causing major damage to the town road, Lightening is ordered to repave it, a job which will take a week, just enough time to learn a whole trunkful of life lessons from the colorful inhabitants of Radiator Springs, and still barely make it to the race on time. In the forefront of those doing the teaching are Sally Carrera, a big city Porsche who fell in love with small-town living, Tow Mater, a rusty tow truck with a big heart and soft head, and Doc Hudson, a classic car with an attitude and a secret, voiced beautifully by Paul Newman.
As the week rolls on for Lightening, the big race and the big sponsorships to come start to mean less than the honest people and beautiful landscape in this tiny backwater hamlet. But back at the track, people are looking for our hero, and Lightening will have to show what he’s made of when these two worlds collide.
If you’re looking for a great movie to take the kids to, don’t be scared off by my first couple of paragraphs. “Cars,” though it’s got subtext, is a good old-fashioned golden rule-style cartoon with lots of silly laughs and moral lessons. I’m sure you’ll be buying it on DVD in a few months and your kids will drive you crazy watching it eight times a day and then running around the house quoting Larry the Cable Guy.
What I found most interesting, however, was the plight of some of these small western towns set adrift by the march of progress. I’m originally from Northern Arizona, and have seen what Route 66 and other secondary roads have to offer first-hand. There are real treasures out there that few people see anymore due to the ease and speed of freeway travel. “Cars” makes the comment that maybe we could all be better people if we were able to slow down and smell the roses once in a while.
I very much enjoyed “Cars,” though I don’t think I would put it up there with “Nemo” or “The Incredibles.” It fits neatly in with the second tier Pixar films, “Monsters, Inc.” and “A Bug’s Life.” Good movies, but not amazing. It’s a little long, and some of the jokes were a little too easy. Also, it was a little difficult for me to get my head around the fact that the entire world is occupied by cars. Even the bugs are cars (Beetles get it?) That wasn’t a big problem, just a little odd. What is amazing, however, and it seems like we say this with every Pixar movie, is the animation. Wow. There were times in this film where I literally could not tell whether I was watching animation or live action. The cars themselves are pretty cartoony, but the environment in which they exist is, at times, breathtaking.
“Cars” has got a little something for everyone, Pixar’s speciality. We can only hope that the trend continues with a new, wholly Disney-owned Pixar. In any case, at lest this film delivers the goods. So, whether you are looking for a fun adventure about the little racecar that could, or for a comment on the post-industrial decay of the American southwest, Pixar’s “Cars” has got just the ticket: Grade: A-
“Cars” is rated G.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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