Thursday, March 7, 2013

Movie Review: Cars

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Engaging characters and lots of great laughs
Cons: Kids might not find it as fun as Pixar's other films.
The Bottom Line:
A good reminder
To stop and smell the pavement
Great entertainment

A Kick on Route 66

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a car person. However, I am a diehard Pixar animation fan, so I didn't let the little detail that Cars is set in a world of talking cars affect my desire to see it at all. I knew I had to see it opening weekend. And I am thrilled I did.

The movie is about racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). He's had a fantastic rookie season and could easily become the first rookie to win the coveted Piston Cup. All he has to do is win the run off race against veteran The King (Richard Petty) and perpetual runner up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton). If he can do that, he might be able to get a new sponsor. After all, being the spokescar for Rust-Eze is a little embarrassing for a sleek racecar like Lightning.

On the way to the big race in Los Angeles, Lightning accidentally gets separated from his transport truck and finds himself in Radiator Springs, where he accidentally destroys the road. Much to his dismay, he's sentenced to repave the road before he can continue on the way.

Radiator Springs is the town that time forgot. A former way station on the famous Route 66, it is barely surviving now that the big interstate has been build nearby, making stopping there no longer necessary. Of course, this is exactly the type of town Lightning wants to avoid. He's living life in the fast lane and just wants to get on his way.

But to complete his community service, he has to deal with the locals. Mater the Tow Truck (Larry the Cable Guy) quickly labels Lightning his best friend and wants to help him have a good time. Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) is cute and distracts the rather single focused Lightning. In fact, everyone in town seems to enjoy having Lightning around. Everyone but Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). What kind of secret might he have? And will Lightning take what he is learning to heart?

I went into the movie only knowing the bare basics of the plot. The first few minutes seemed a bit slow setting up the character of Lightning and how he came to be stranded in Radiator Springs. Once he arrives, the movie revs into high gear and rarely slows down.

One thing that makes Pixar's movies stand out is their attention to detail. Watching the car's backup lights turn on and off or the bugs being VW Beetles, for example, add to the charm. The animation in the movie is flawless, and many of the scenery shots are absolutely breathtaking. If I didn't know better, I would say they were real. This is a movie to watch on the big screen for those shots alone.

Of course, for a non-car guy like me, the characters are going to be the big thing the success of the movie hinges on. I'm happy to say the characters are great. Many of the towncars are easily memorable because of their funny personalities. We quickly come to care for all of the cars and their town. Lightning McQueen, while not a nice guy at the beginning, is certainly likable. I was rooting for him to do the right thing the entire way through the movie.

There is a flaw in the film, however. Much of the conflict in the film is about Lightning learning to stop and smell the pavement. This is a wonderful theme that needs to be heard, but I'm not sure that kids will fully appreciate it. The villain has little screen time to be developed. And this is the first Pixar movie without their patented climax that will not quit. All of this leaves us with a movie that adults will enjoy but might not enthrall kids as much as previous Pixar films. They'll enjoy it, just not love it. On the other hand, I don't remember anything in this film that is remotely inappropriate for kids.

And a word for those who don't sit all the way through the credits. You must! There some great additional scenes and a hilarious jab at mainstay John Ratzenberger and Pixar. Once the credits finish, there is one final scene that is great as well.

While kids might not find Cars as engaging as Pixar's other films, they will enjoy it. The friends I went to see it with all loved it. None of us are car people and I think I'm the only animation buff in the group, so this is yet another movie that will entertain a large group of people. Personally, I felt the flaw was worth noting only in passing and can't wait to see it again.

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