Worth A Look: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 24.79%
Total Crap: 2.56%
9 reviews, 63 user ratings
by William Goss
Despite its many deficiencies, 'Cars' looks fantastic. Down to the details, shadowing, reflections, lighting, and backgrounds, all visuals are superbly rendered, creating a true feast for the eyes from beginning to end. At the very least, when sheer boredom kicks in, one can admire the level of devotion and detail in the environments while adults and children alike ask “Are we there yet?” After all, looks aren’t everything.Technically astonishing, yet only mildly amusing, the seventh feature-length Pixar production breaks their streak of excellence, established across the past decade or so with the likes of Toy Story 1 & 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, as this anthropomorphic automobile adventure neglects those most crucial elements of sincere story and engaging characters that consistently elevated their first-rate computer effects to the level of top-notch cinematic entertainment, surpassing common constrictions of family-friendly fare and/or animated films.
"Shifting Into Reverse"
Destined to be a box-office smash and subsequent DVD staple as its predecessors were, the undiscerning youth who have yet to see Doc Hollywood or any other fish-out-of-water tale should eat up this story, as hotshot racing rookie Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) finds himself waylaid in the small town of Radiator Springs and, following a series of extravagant circumstances, is soon sentenced to repair the main drag of this small town by the town elder, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). Sure enough, the cocky stock car begins to appreciate the residents of Radiator Springs and their modest standard of living, inevitably finding himself conflicted when the time comes to depart and compete in the Piston Cup championship race, his initial destination.
The characters consist more of celebrity microphone mounting and borderline stereotypes than heartfelt performances and inspired personalities. In addition to the arrogant auto and stern veteran, we have:
-Sally (Bonnie Hunt), the pretty Porsche / love interest
-Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the hick tow truck / loyal pal
-Ramone (Cheech Marin), the hydraulic-flaunting Impala low-rider
-Filmore (George Carlin), the hippie van preaching organic fuels
-Sarge (Paul Dooley), the soldierly Jeep / Filmore’s authoritative foil
-Luigi (Tony Shaloub), the tire-selling Ferrari fanatic
-Flo (Jenifer Lewis), the sassy owner of the local diner
and not a prominent exclusion amongst the entire ensemble, save possibly for Cable Guy, who seems to get the majority of the purportedly witty lines in addition to most of the sappy buddy factor (“I knowed I made a good choice. [In what?] My new best friend.”). Then again, if one needed to voice a rusting redneck vehicle, they could do worse, even though the inclusion of his character feels like mild pandering to the racing crowds that are likely to find the material appealing, even going so far as to include a few of his trademark lines.
A few years back, my stepfather asked me what I had to show after spending my time and money on movies, and I always wondered what he had to show after watching stock cars run laps for hours each and every Sunday. As the occupant of a NASCAR household, I was never much of a fan, but even I can admire the execution of the races which bookend the film. These rousing race sequences are undeniably exciting and accurate in execution, nailing the in-field, grandstands, pits, straightaways, and Victory Lane, while making room for plenty of impressive crashes and cameos: Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mario Andretti, Jay Leno, and even the Car Talk guys all make an appearance. Who knew that it might take big-screen races and a movie sandwiched in between to align the interests of my stepfather and I? Ah, but I digress, because that story in the middle is so tremendously contrived and hackneyed that it practically stalls the seemingly stretched second act, where the stale cast of characters makes its way into the spotlight and takes too much of its sweet time to remind the audience of just how great mid-century Americana was, before the advent of the highway smothered the small towns that peppered Route 66. True quaintness means never having to force-feed fifties nostalgia down the viewer’s throat, yet director John Lasseter (one of the script’s eight writers) is so intent on coasting by on sheer spirit that Norman Rockwell must be spinning in his grave (though I must say, he looks terrific doing it).
As admirable as such a nostalgic notion is, that trademark heart of Pixar is remarkably absent, instead resulting in an overwrought barrages of montages, flashbacks, and songs, oh my! James Taylor makes an unremarkable bid for the Best Original Song Oscar with “Our Town,” while Randy Newman returns with an equally unimpressive score. Otherwise, the cars share the spotlight in their efforts to make Lighting the better car that the script requires. When our hero is being taught how to drive backwards or make sharp turns, there isn’t the slightest doubt that these techniques will come into play when the championship race rolls around. When a character says “Here I am! Loooooooooooooove me”, it comes across as an ultimatum more than anything, especially when the two-hour running time isn’t even close to complete. As clever as some tiny touches are, the material soon dissolves into a scattering of visual and verbal puns throughout the sentimental segments. In this human-free realm, bugs are actually Bugs, while farm equipment substitutes bovines in an amusing sequence of tractor tipping that all but wears out its welcome.
Finally, the story makes its way out of Radiator Springs in time for the Big Race, which falls short of exciting or commendable when the climactic event and outcome have already been done better, either earlier in this film or in another movie entirely. The customary outtakes do manage to wrap things up on a comparatively livelier note, even though a John Ratzenberger gag (he has provided a voice in every Pixar film, including Mack, the 18-wheeler that tows Lightning’s trailer) earns more of a bittersweet chuckle than anything. For the first Pixar film to tout its credits as ‘from the manufacturers of…’ instead of creators, it bears an eerie portent concerning their course in terms of filmmaking. Has the Ratzenberger routine become too familiar? In their rush to fulfill a contractual obligation prior to Disney buying them out, was the priority for heartfelt handiwork overshadowed by more corporate concerns? Even A Bug’s Life, arguably the closest Pixar project to this, had a fair share of laughs and provided genuine amusement before the world had grown accustomed to steadily superlative entertainment with sincere consideration for the characters and their world beyond a few sly gags.Ultimately, 'Cars' is merely adequate, if only redeemed by its display of spectacular animation. However, as with 'X-Men: The Last Stand' just two weeks prior, one simply cannot ignore the fact that there have already been several models of superior quality and what would otherwise be classified as a rather underwhelming effort inevitably becomes a disappointing one. Like it or not, this is Pixar’s weakest work to date, lacking in genuine heart and only good for a handful of giggles and grins between watch glances.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=14707&reviewer=409
originally posted: 06/10/06 22:30:45
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