Sometimes you go to the movies with very high expectations and you are let down, other times you go and you enjoy the movie as much as you thought you would. Well, Cars was one I was looking forward to for some time. It was opening on my Birthday and I knew from the cast, and advance trailers I had seen, this was going to be a good one.
Would I be disappointed? Or would I be in for a good time? I fully expected that I would have somewhat of a letdown, and while I did have a minimal let down from the extraordinarily high expectations, it was not nearly as much as I expected and I left the theater feeling great.
I have said before, and it bears repeating, animated films can address subject matter like no other media. The adults who still have a, “it’s only a cartoon” needs to drive around on a hot muggy night out of windshield cleaner. There are the great animated films of the last few years, Shrek, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and the list goes on. The release of this summer’s Pixar film Cars is one that will end up ranking right up there with some of the greats.
While Cars has a star studded cast, loaded down with a heart warming and entertaining story, the animation at times steals the show. Not since The Polar Express has a movie had animation as good as is presented in Cars. Some of the sequences had a movie critics jaw dropping in appreciation for the work put on the screen. There are more than a few of those scenes in Cars and the fact that they add to and don’t detract from the story is nothing short of miraculous in itself.
The story centers around three cars in search for the prized Piston Cup Championships. There are three in the running, Lightening McQueen, the new rookie on the block, attempting to be the first ever Rookie to win the prized cup. Lightening McQueen played by the voice of Owen Wilson is up against some tough competition. There is rough and an equally cocky racer, Chick Hicks played by Michael Keaton, and then retiring legend, The King played by real life race car legend Richard Petty. The three are tied in the standings and have one more race to declare the championship.
On the way to California to race in the final race of the year, Lightening McQueen loses his way and ends up in small town, off the beaten highway on Route 66, Radiator Springs. While there he runs into some trouble with the local law, and finds himself in danger of not making his race unless he performs some community service. While there he meets some of the quirkiest characters ever placed on film, animated or not.
While in Radiator Springs Lightening McQueen finds himself not only having to perform community service, but we see small town Americana starting to take hold and he starts to face himself and examine the things that are important. The help of a life gone by, slow living, and enjoying the scenery community of cars(remember there are no humans in the movie, they are all cars) helps Lightening McQueen see life differently for the first time. We see a transformation, the old becomes new and Lightening McQueen becomes a new creature.
It would be so easy to give so much away, but I’ll refrain. You can see the movie yourself and catch all of the subtle messages. There are some surprises along the way in this almost 2 hour film. A little long for the very young, Pixar realizes there is an adult audience in the seats as well as a younger audience. While Cars is a laugh out loud film, it is much more. It slips in a life changing and life transforming messages, one that can be a reminder to society that individuals can change, and change for the better. We are asked questions like; what is really important? How have we as society let the rat race of a fast food society change everything about us? How have we responded the being a part of the MTV generation of quick edits and everything having to be fast? How have we conquered our own dreams? What problems in life have we run from? What is the value of wealth verses poverty? What about commitment? And, I could go on and on. Cars address each of these issues and more.
One of the things I fully expected was supporting performances that were going to be miniscule at best. This was one of the very pleasant surprises of the film. Paul Newman for example, playing the part of Doc Hudson has a pivotal role and his character is anything but fluff. There were other very surprises. The voices of actual racing legends like Richard Petty, Michael Wallis, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others adds to enjoyment of Cars.
One of the most enjoyable things about Cars is the respect it pays its audience and the subtle ways it gives respect to race fans, the movie crew, and film in general. The tributes start out with its original title, Route 66. While it no longer has that title, it never forgets about the “Mother Load” or “Americas Highway.” As one living for a period of time on Route 66, being in the band Route 66, and writing songs about Route 66, I appreciated the historical respect given. Without seeing the movie, unless you are a student of history, this will have little or no value. After seeing it, you will see why this reviewer has an appreciation for this tribute.
There are many more tributes. Originally I thought the character Lightening McQueen was a tribute to late actor and car buff, Steve McQueen, a man worthy of tribute in a car movie, but Pixar takes it further. Lightening McQueen is actually a tribute to late Pixar animator Glenn McQueen. There are many other things, the license plate on Filmore, the Volkswagen Mini Bus is 51237, the actual birth day of the actor providing the voice, George Carlin. Tributes to actors, Pixar, and other movies abound in Cars. It will be one of the things that once viewers identify, will drive them back to the theater searching for more, and, bring Cars to Cult Classic status like other Pixar films.
I also give a surprising pump up in an area I didn’t expect to the character of Mater, a rusting out, old tow truck, played by Larry the Cable Guy. Many have seen him on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and features on the Comedy Channel. To be honest I expected a deplorable performance but will say this character steals the show. His timing is perfect, and the voice is perfectly cast. I loved this character and would love to see him have his own spin-off movie. His voice is an illustration of how perfectly cast Cars is.
All in all, I really enjoyed this birth-day treat of a movie. I plan on seeing it again, buying the DVD on the day it is released. I also plan on slowing back, and enjoying life a little more. Realizing that not only am I surrounded by beautiful places when I get a off the beaten road, but that there are still beautiful people out there.
On a scale of 1-10, while not quite perfect, quite possibly the best movie of the summer so far. A very enjoyable and entertaining 8