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Should I Watch..? Cars
What's the big deal?
Cars is an animated family comedy film released in 2006 and marks Pixar's final independently produced film before they were purchased by Disney. Directed and co-written by John Lasseter, the film is set in a world populated by anthropomorphic cars and other vehicles and concerns the fate of racing star Lightning McQueen who finds himself stranded in the quiet town of Radiator Springs. The cast stars Owen Wilson, Paul Newman (in his last acting role), Larry The Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt and Tony Shalhoub. The film was a huge success, generating $462 million worldwide at the box office as well as record-breaking sales of merchandise, resulting in an additional $10 billion over the next five years. The film is dedicated to long-time Pixar writer and animator Joe Ranft who was killed in a car accident before the film's release.
What's it about?
As the Piston Cup approaches the final race of the season, the championship is in the grasp of three possible winners - veteran Strip "The King" Weathers, perennial runner-up Chick Hicks and sensational rookie Lightning McQueen. Desperate to get to California for the final race and get as much practise in as he can, Lightning sets off with his trailer-truck buddy Mack but after an accident, winds up in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs and accidentally destroys their road.
Arrested and impounded, Lightning forges a friendship with rusty tow-truck Mater before appearing before the judge, Doc Hudson, who orders him to repair the damaged road before leaving town. As Lightning spends more time in Radiator Springs, he starts to fall for his lawyer - a sporty Porsche named Sally - as well as the charms of small-town life. But is Lightning capable of learning what's really important in life or is he destined to always be an arrogant, headstrong racing car?
Lightning McQueen, stock-car
Doc Hudson, 1951 Hudson Hornet
Sally Carrera, Porsche 911
Larry The Cable Guy
Mater, 1951 International Harvester L-170 "boom" truck
Luigi, 1959 Fiat 500
Ramone, 1959 Chevrolet Impala Lowrider
Strip "The King" Weathers, 1970 Plymouth Superbird
Chick Hicks, 1980s Buick Regal
Dan Fogelman, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Kiel Murray, Phil Loren & Jorgen Klubien*
Release Date (UK)
28th July, 2008
Animation, Comedy, Family, Sports
Academy Award Nominations
Best Original Song ("Our Town"), Best Animated Feature
What's to like?
Once you've gotten your head around his bizarre concept of living, breathing, talking vehicles then Cars actually has a lot going for it. Opening in the blazing roar of a race, full of noise and energy, the movie instantly catapults you to a recognisable world that is immediately different. It's extremely imaginative, given how not a single character has hands but the film is a dream for petrol-heads the world over. The characters all look very close to their real-world counterparts, especially with the little details like reflections off Lightning's heavily polished bonnet or his tyres called Lightyears - see what they did there?
It's not just the characters who look amazing. Arguably, it's one of Pixar's prettiest films to date - the golden sunsets over the dusty world of Radiator Springs and the rocky outcrops the cars go driving through all look stunning - only Brave (1) has come close to this with its pixel-perfect recreation of rural Scotland. But Cars is an astonishing piece of animation and given the usual quality of performance by its various vocal talent, it also sound the business as well. It even throws in cameos from the likes of Michael Schumacher, Jay Leno, Jeremy Clarkson and other motoring legends. The film strikes the perfect balance of entertaining the younger viewer via the goofy antics of Mater while still dropping enough cultural references and gags for the older audience as well. It's a great film to watch as a family, even if your kids will want nothing but the toys afterwards.
- Look closely at Luigi's number plate which reads 445-108. This marks the latitude and longitude of Ferrari's main factory in Modena, Italy. Luigi is clearly a die-hard Ferrari fan indeed!
- Newman's last film role of his career and also the highest-grossing of his career as well. Newman died in 2008, a few months after fellow cast-member George Carlin, who voiced the VW Campervan Fillmore.
- Many Pixar movies feature the number A113 somewhere and Cars is no exception - the train that Lightning outruns is numbered A113 and Mater has the number on his licence plate. A113 is the animation room at the California Institute of the Arts, where many Pixar animations studied.
What's not to like?
I can't hate Cars because of the amount of merchandise Disney produced - frankly, it seems to be standard Disney practise anyway for any film and that isn't the fault of the film. What I can disagree with is the film's story arc which bears more than a striking resemblance to the Michael J Fox comedy Doc Hollywood (2). Worse still, the story follows the same arc that we've seen time and time again in CG-animated movies about people finding themselves and being true to their nature. Even Toy Story (3), that most lauded of Pixar films, struggles to escape from this cliché as astronaut Buzz slowly accepts that he is actually just a toy and comes to terms with it.
So apart from the unimaginative storyline, is there anything else? It's not as funny as the likes of The Incredibles (4) although it may be because it's aimed at a much younger audience than myself. But the film isn't anything as like as bad as you might imagine and certainly better than its rotten sequel, which was the first Pixar film to be widely recognised as a flop. We all know that Pixar can produce real magic in a film but sadly, this only generates a couple of sparks compared to the brilliance and imagination of Inside Out (5) or Up (6).
Should I watch it?
Inventive, imaginative, colourful and full of energy, Cars is a wonderful film that everyone in the family can enjoy. Not only that but it's also a stunning piece of animation - not just in terms of pure visual splendour but technically impressive as well. Yes, it opened the doors for a flood of merchandise as well as a half-hearted sequel but Cars is much under-rated, in my opinion. After all, this is Pixar and who else can produce movies as good as these guys?
Great For: the whole family, petrol-heads, the Pixar fan-club, baby-sitters
Not So Great For: environmentalists, anyone looking for a quiet night in
What else should I watch?
Like I said, Pixar have quickly established themselves as kings of the CG animation world and have developed an extensive catalogue of films for everyone to enjoy. Even their first film Toy Story, which looks worryingly basic compared to this film, is an absolute delight with its brilliant story, setting and cast. Toy Story 2 (7) is a full-on adventure movie with these characters while Toy Story 3 (8) offers a very different prospect - don't be surprised if you're in floods of tears come the end.
WALL·E (9) is probably my favourite Pixar film and might even slip into my Top Ten films of all time. It's a wonderful riposte to the likes of Cars in that it's a damning warning of the dangers of mass consumerism, environmental damage and becoming a fully autonomous society wrapped up in a beautiful sci-fi adventure about a robot falling in love. And all of this from the company that gave us A Bug's Life (10).
© 2015 Benjamin Cox