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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.11%
Average: 27.35%
Pretty Bad: 24.79%
Total Crap: 2.56%

9 reviews, 63 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"The journey beats the destination. Yeah, it's a cliché, but it's true here."
5 stars

If one was to imagine an Animation Hall of Fame to honor those who were involved with technical innovation and consistently excellent work, there'd be little argument over who the inner circle was: Windsor McCay, Walt Disney, Osamu Tezuka, Chuck Jones, Hayao Miyazaki, and I think it would be fair to include Pixar's John Lasseter. These names are held in such high regard that when the two who are still alive and active produce something new, the standard is not the other movies with the same genre or audience, but their own best work. This is why you can go to "Cars", hear the audience laugh straight through, and then hear those same people on the way out talk about being disappointed.

So it's just an exceptionally good movie rather than a masterpiece. The film's biggest problem, I think, is that it's kind of self-indulgent. At nearly two hours, it's relatively long for an American animated movie, and though it doesn't quite feel bloated or flabby, Cars could probably do with having its aerodynamics studied a bit (as in, I don't know where that drag is coming from, but I can feel it). Sure, it may seem like that's a somewhat inappropriate complaint about a film whose message is to slow down a little and enjoy the journey, but this journey could use a few more roadside attractions to make up for its lengths. Also, some of the car-and-racing-related bits may be highly amusing to car people but less so to those who see the things as necessary transportation but no basis for a hobby. For instance, there's a racecar named "The King" that is voiced by Richard Petty. I was a bit amused to see his name in the credits, and figured that a certain uncle and cousins would have really liked that while watching his scenes. That bit's just going to be lost on many people; others might seem like active wastes of time.

Still, the only "inside" thing that might even be close to really necessary to understand what's going on is that it's important to change tires rather than just refuel regularly during a stock-car race, and that's demonstrated in a dramatic enough manner. The film takes place in a world populated by intelligent motor vehicles rather than human beings; the most popular sport in that world's America is, naturally, stock car racing. Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson), a cherry-red rookie, is set to be the first rookie car ever to win the circuit's top prize - and thus become heir apparent to the retiring King's lucrative sponsorship and endorsement deals, but his blowout during the final race of the season leaves him in a three-way tie with the King and Chick Hicks (voice of Michael Keaton), who is equally cocky but doesn't have youth as an excuse. On the way to a special tie-breaker race, though, McQueen is separated from his carrier, Mack (Pixar regular John Ratzenberger), and winds up before traffic court in out-of-the-way Radiator Flats. Judge Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman) would like to just send the troublemaker on his way, but after he gets on the bad side of part-time prosecutor Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), McQueen is sentenced to repave Main Street. Can he do it in time to make the big race out in California? Will his time in the small Route 66 town give him a new appreciation for things other than being #1?

Well, of course it will. The plot is Doc Hollywood ("... with talking cars!"), but it's not as though the kids coming to see it have seen Doc Hollywood, but even they are going to have some idea of where the movie is heading pretty quickly. Again, we know the destination, but the sights along the way are worth slowing down to see. The movie is remarkable first on a sheer "throwing great hardware and software at it" level; while a movie about cars may initially feel like a throwback all the way to Toy Story in terms of being a technological challenge (smooth, manufactured objects without fur or feathers), that's ignoring the vast, incredibly detailed backgrounds; they're almost too close to photorealistic to avoid clashing with the fanciful, somewhat simplified characters inhabiting them. Those cute character designs are also a lot trickier than one might initially give them credit for; they look like specific real-world models of cars, but they're flexible in just enough ways that real cars aren't to make them expressive characters.

This is the first Pixar production (or animated Disney picture, for that matter) to openly push their voice talent the same way DreamWorks does, but when you've got Paul Newman, it's worth crowing about. He growls like a blue-collar father, used to having his way because he's been right enough times that nobody questions him, and irritated when someone does. His voice is the perfect counterpoint to Owen Wilson's; Wilson puffs McQueen up with supposed authority that he hasn't earned, but puts just enough charm into it that the audience is willing to give him a chance to grow up. The supporting characters are, by and large, a treat: "Larry the Cable Guy" is an almost ideal rustic as Mater - not much book smarts, but big-hearted; it's not hard to imagine him perfectly at peace sitting by a lake, using his tow cable as a fishing line. Between Larry and the Pixar animators, the character can say dumb but amusing things and also seem absolutely crushed when he thinks he's screwed everything up. Bonnie Hunt's Sally sounds like a smart blonde (a Porsche probably being the automotive equivalent) - pleasant and capable most of the time and disarmingly cute when she gets flustered. Tony Shaloub pulls his accent from Wings out of mothballs as an Italian forklift who loves races - real races, F1 races with Ferarris (this is the race fans' equivalent of "why do you Americans watch baseball when the rest of the world knows footy is the superior game?") - and is a stitch.

Lasseter and Pixar got to the top of the pack by embracing technology and sweating details, and Cars does a fine job of that. The car motif is all over the visuals, from the shape of rock formations in the landscape to the jet contrails that look like tread marks in the clear blue sky. There may not be a logical reason for them, but they make the world more enveloping - they keep us in that place even when we'd question it. He makes the races fast and exciting without them becoming the confusing blur they can be to non-fans like me. Randy Newman contributes his first work in a couple of years, including a new song performed by James Taylor (it aims to serve the same function as "When She Loved Me" from Toy Story 2, but doesn't quite meet that standard. The ending credits are filled with goodies, like we've come to expect.

I'll be honest - I didn't like this movie quite as much when I started writing the review. On first blush, it seems like a lesser effort, but upon reflection it winds up feeling more solid and substantial. Over time, I think the kids in the audience who liked it will enjoy it even more as they grow up and spot all the details that the car nuts at Pixar put in.

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originally posted: 06/27/06 23:52:43
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
3/23/15 Jerry Spray zzzzzzzzzzzzz....huh? OH! Did I just sleep through "Cars"? Go figure. 2 stars
10/19/11 Magic The second worst Pixar movie is still a Pixar movie. Nostalgic and gives warm fuzzies. 4 stars
6/15/11 My apples are rotting A tad underrated. Not aclassic but entertaining 4 stars
10/23/09 Rachel This is a favorite in our household. Cute and has a good message. 5 stars
1/14/09 Anonymous. it's cute and funny, like most other animated movies. :] 4 stars
9/14/08 Samantha Pruitt not as good as the other Pixar movies, still kind of funny 4 stars
7/19/08 Shaun Wallner I love this movie, great for the whole family 5 stars
7/06/08 John Millheim the kids loved it, I did too,the animation was great 5 stars
1/23/08 Chase My dad and I watched it and we both thought it was hilarious, but had a good plot. 5 stars
1/08/08 Steve Aside from official remakes I've never seen a movie that mirrors another so closely. 3 stars
8/11/07 dragongirl Really cool movie! Good charas, especially Doc was rocks! Well the hero ain't bad either! 5 stars
7/07/07 AnnieG Characters are bad role models for kids - best parts were for the F1 fans 3 stars
5/25/07 sultryHobbit Like my girlfriend: cute, beautiful, but slow and predictable. 3 stars
2/13/07 druggas great movie with a good moral to the story. I watch it every night. 5 stars
2/07/07 Randall J. Paltza There's nothing "cynical" about CARS. If it imitates Doc H, I'm glad I saw CARS instead! 5 stars
2/02/07 bkjohnston Teaching all of us that some things are more important than winning is NOT preachy. 5 stars
1/27/07 David Cohen Still a heck of a lot better than anything Disney is producing these days 3 stars
1/21/07 David A. Cute for kids, but it gets pretty preachy. 2 stars
1/07/07 Stu If the critics want deep, watch usual suspects. This is a kids film my 4 year old loved! 5 stars
1/07/07 Disappointing for a Pixar,last 20min saves the movie. Seen Doc H, I agree with the comment! 3 stars
12/24/06 Tessa it's ok 3 stars
12/15/06 Lloyd Loved it! Will watch it over and over and over again! 5 stars
12/07/06 Lou Perez Loved it! This movie has a much deeper Story than you think, if you can see it! 5 stars
11/25/06 Dave T. Very clever...after the first viewing. 5 stars
11/22/06 Chris realized 3 days later when thinking about nothing that it reminded me of Doc H-wood 2 stars
11/21/06 Mohammad I think you missed the goal of "Cars." It's a tribute to car-nuts like me - we love it! 5 stars
11/10/06 Charles Tatum Beautiful to look at, but drags...get it, drags?! 4 stars
11/04/06 becky one of the best disney movies yet 5 stars
9/27/06 Cruzia Wonderfull graphic, awesome story, you'll dissappointed by not watching it !!! 5 stars
9/25/06 Lisa Craven Loved the animation and story line. Enjoyable dialogue and characters. 5 stars
9/03/06 Christopher Stucky Eventually, Pixar has to make a bad one. This isn't it yet. 5 stars
8/24/06 Chad Thomas Best animated movie of the year! Classic Pixar. 5 stars
8/18/06 Heather Marie Any requests?!! 5 stars
8/17/06 Pn. A feast for my PC & Pixel soaked brainstem. Will not be as good on second viewing... 5 stars
8/17/06 Mary Beth great animation, enjoyable, surprised at low ratings 4 stars
8/14/06 Sharon yea I took my little 5 year old brother and he hated it! 1 stars
8/06/06 Robyn Awesome Film!!! 5 stars
8/06/06 Erik Van Sant The first 'bad' Pixar film. Even that is better than most of the shit offered this summer. 3 stars
8/05/06 Gaogaigar I was disappointed with this Pixar picture- dozed off somewhere in Radiator Springs! 3 stars
7/26/06 Quigley A good but not great Pixar movie. stunning visuals; and ya gotta love Mater 4 stars
7/10/06 Sarah Love it. Brilliant animation. In opposition to a few blunt ratings, it was incredibly witty 4 stars
7/01/06 Christopher Didn't like the previews but this is a really great movie. Bonnie Hunt's vocals were great. 5 stars
7/01/06 Gerry Irons Boring and Disappointing. Slow story with overly simple charactors and story 3 stars
6/28/06 PAG Solid, but not great, film. Larry The Cable Guy was pretty funny. 3 stars
6/25/06 Mase Sorely lacking something all pixar films had has to this point, a sense of adventure. 3 stars
6/23/06 orpament torture, even with my son 1 stars
6/20/06 Agent Sands Fantastic and substantial. Greatly stimulant of emotions. 5 stars
6/20/06 JLo It was great, better than Gigli, that's for sure! 5 stars
6/19/06 John Aster Habig What the hell is this crap? Since when does scrap metal relate to us as human beings? 1 stars
6/16/06 ES Better than bug's life and moster's inc. 4 stars
6/14/06 tjpeterson AWESOME, don't know these other people watched, son loved it,will be the 1st to buy on DVD! 5 stars
6/13/06 KingNeutron Critics too harsh on this one; I laughed, I cried; looks Awesome. (But I havnt seen Doc H.) 4 stars
6/12/06 bullit16 I would watch any Pixar movie any time. Except this one. 4 stars
6/12/06 ajay loved all the other pixar movies for the great story/characters. this falls *way* short. 2 stars
6/12/06 Pokejedservo Take it as the great old-fashioned storyline as it is. This isn't new age at all... 5 stars
6/12/06 Joe This movie was GREAT! funny, good story, who saw Doc Hollywood anyway? 5 stars
6/11/06 katsat Good but not great. Needed MORE anthropomorphism for audience to relate to. Great visuals. 4 stars
6/11/06 San Lamar it was ok 3 stars
6/11/06 Koitus GREAT intro-short; MUST STAY for the credits. The rest = Eh? Agree with Doc H-Wood cmnts. 3 stars
6/11/06 MickOZ ANAMATION IS FOR KIDS UNDER 10! that said my 5 year old liked it. 5 stars
6/10/06 Adrian I definetely got my hopes way too up. Aside from the visuals, it's totally boring. 2 stars
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  09-Jun-2006 (G)
  DVD: 07-Nov-2006

  28-Jul-2006 (PG)

  08-Jun-2006 (G)

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