Cars (2006)
Cars (2006)

Genre: Comedy and Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: June 9th, 2006 MPAA Rating: G

Director: John Lasseter, Joe Ranft Actors: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, George Carlin, Katherine Helmond, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton

 


 

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peed. Focus. Lightning. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is a winning racecar who eats losers for breakfast – although he’s described as a rookie, especially against veteran competitors like Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) and The King (Richard Petty). At the latest Piston Cup tournament, Lightning forgoes teamwork (he’s a one-man-show) by not having a crew chief and by dismissing his pit crew when they advise that he change out his tires during the end of the race. As a result, even with a nearly one-lap lead during the final minutes, the Cup ends in a historic three-way tie. So, in one week, a tiebreaker will be held in California – a showdown that Lightning resents, as he blames everyone but himself, certain that he should have been the solitary champion.

Once on the road with his hauling semi, Mack (John Ratzenberger), Lightning again insists that they skip a much-needed rest stop to drive straight through to California. With the unwelcome assistance of a foursome of troublemaking, neon-lit hotrods, Mack is nearly pushed off the road, resulting in a sleeping McQueen sliding out onto the highway, where he becomes quickly turned around, lost, and then chased by the sheriff of hillbilly town Radiator Springs. First winding up in the municipal impound, then appearing in traffic court, Lightning is eventually sentenced to community service to repair the main road (destroyed by the hotshot racecar during an attempted flight from the authorities) – a five-day job that will surely prevent him from securing fame and fortune in California.

It’s immediately odd that an audience of cars would watch other cars race, while being served by still other cars, all while sitting in a building designed for humans for an event made competitive specifically by having humans master mechanical conveyances. Automatons without humans negates the reason for cavities in the vehicles themselves. And yet the entire world of “Cars” is populated by nothing but cars, which begs the question as to how the infrastructure was built and how automobiles are manufactured in the first place. After all, there are both male and female cars.

The starring vehicles are anthropomorphized to a moderate degree, with eyes and mouths, and wheels that move a bit like arms and legs. But this raises even more questions, particularly as Lightning secures a tie in the Piston Cup by stretching out his tongue across the finish line. And when telephone wires and poles thwart his escape from Radiator Springs. And when cars can eat gas, yet also have it siphoned from them during their slumber (itself a strange thought). And when a road-paving machine appears as an inanimate object, despite being a vehicle. And when the cars can feel pain (for which there’s a mechanical clinic).

As for the interactions themselves, there’s a courtroom sequence, complete with the requirement of legal representation, yet no requirements to actually be a lawyer. Garages contain photo albums and trophies with handles, yet tire-hands aren’t versatile enough to grasp these or the myriad other items necessary for routine car maintenance. And most vehicles have special uses, such as a tow truck or a forklift or a fire truck, which suggests that they were manufactured, not born (further lending to rumination on car mortality and life cycles). Plus, the physics don’t match the design of a world of car-people; movements are predominantly squash-and-stretch exaggerations or gravity-defying maneuvers. Obviously, this premise requires a considerable amount of buying into the notion that vehicles have replaced humanity, without the look of the world changing to assume that mankind never existed in the first place.

But these trivial annoyances aren’t really the point. “Cars” is a family-friendly, generic fairy tale (comparable in many ways to “Cool Hand Luke,” especially with the inclusion of Paul Newman as the voice of town judge Doc, and with Lightning’s brashness) about friendship, teamwork, hard work, light romance (“I hope you find what you’re looking for”), happiness, social classes, changing times, and the appreciation of natural beauty. The universe of cars (and the look of the talking vehicles) is supposed to be so unique that a worthwhile story was pushed to the background. Had the cars reverted back to humans, the plot couldn’t have been weaker or more formulaic.

Another problem is that the assortment of townsfolk aren’t stimulating (Bonnie Hunt plays the timid love interest, Cheech Marin is the hydraulics-augmented lowrider, Tony Shalhoub is the European circuit and Ferrari fan, and George Carlin is the organic-fuel-making hippie) and the jokes just aren’t that funny. Larry the Cable Guy as buck-toothed tow truck Mater is the most unusual, memorable creation (serving primarily as comic relief), but his schtick grows wearisome as the picture progresses. The primary protagonists are also so basic and flat that they inspire none of the awe or pathos for which Pixar’s projects are typically known. Additionally, it’s difficult to generate suspense during an initial and closing race, which each last 300 laps or more – while the film’s two-hour length is unbearable for an animated feature.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10