Lightning McQueen leads the charge for the Piston Cup in “Cars.”
Photo courtesy of MOROCH ENTERTAINMENT
“Cars” from Pixar Animation Studios is in theaters now.
All the media hyper-hype surrounding the newest Pixar production, “Cars” caused a touch of concern and consternation. After all, Pixar seems due for a lackluster performance following its stellar string of hits.
Admittedly, I had my reservations about the film. Transforming toys into sympathetic characters in “Toy Story” seems like child’s play compared to personifying an entire cast of vehicles.
The pessimists finish last as, once again, Pixar takes a traditional premise and makes magic.
Family-friendly “Cars” follows rookie racecar Lightning McQueen on a cross-country journey to compete in the Piston Cup Championship. McQueen – a narcissistic, overconfident tenderfoot, er, tendertire – thinks he can win the race without the support of a crew chief or supporting team and dreams of leaving his initial sponsors behind for more lucrative endorsements. An unexpected detour forces the greenhorn to reevaluate his perspective.
Directed by John Lasseter, “Cars” flaunts the technological dexterity of Pixar’s computer animators delivering faultless detail in perspective, movement and texture. From sweeping panoramic landscapes to high-speed racetrack sequences, occasionally one forgets the film is animated at all.
Hi-tech wizardry aside, the heart and soul of the movie rests in the well-developed characters and thoughtful storyline. Lending his voice (and ego) to McQueen is actor Owen Wilson. Wilson’s skillful vocal portrayal reflects McQueen’s gradual transformation. Veteran actor Paul Newman supplies the voice of Doc Hudson, a reclusive former racing champion whose obstinacy conceals his own personal ghosts.
The most memorable and lovable automobile by far is Mater, a 1955 Chevy pickup tow truck voiced by stand-up comedian Larry the Cable Guy (a.k.a. Daniel Lawrence Whitney). If an animated character can steal a scene, Mater does. The tractor tipping segment will have children and adults alike rolling in the aisles.
Speaking of adults, there are plenty of reasons why this movie will appeal to more than just the kiddies. “Cars” features a truckload of cameos that adults will appreciate, and the younger audience members will miss altogether. For NASCAR fans, there’s Darrell Waltrip, H.A. Wheeler, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mario Andretti,, and Richard Petty as “The King” Strip Weathers. Jay Leno appears as Jay Limo. Even Tom and Ray Magliozzi – Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on National Public Radio’s “Car Talk” show – show up as McQueen’s sponsors, Rusty and Dusty Rust-Eze.
Grown-ups prone to fits of nostalgia also will welcome the film’s underlying theme about how the interstate system sucked the life out of small town America. Gone are the days when roads moved with the land, when travelers enjoyed the journey as much as the destination. “Cars” reminds us all to take time to smell the greasy onion rings cooking at mom-and-pop diners at out-of-the-way stopovers and to visit the vistas beyond the scope of standard travel agent brochures.