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... While Roger doesn't share Michael's positive opinion of Pixar's new picture

... While Roger doesn't share Michael's positive opinion of Pixar's new picture

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Okay. So we all know that "Cars" is one of the summer's most anticipated releases. But after watching this new Pixar Animation Studios' production, I just could not help but think that -- as good as it was -- "Cars" could have been even better. And that's all the more a pity. Because I really did enjoy this John Lasseter film.

The Cast of "Cars"
Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

Now before I delve into my review of this film, let me offer a few hints to make your viewing almost perfect:

  1. Do not leave the theater when the end credits begin to roll. Some of the folks (Okay, movie critics) that I watched a preview of this film with did. And they missed some of the funniest things on the screen – especially for fans of Pixar's previous offerings. We're not talking simple out-takes or bloopers. This is "do-not-miss" stuff. So just don't! There are gags right up to the last frame of the credits too.
  2. You will need to see this film a few times just to catch all of the gags and hidden (or not-so-hidden) goodies. Even fans of Steve Job's other enterprise, Apple Computer, will want to keep an eye peeled for a bit of product placement. And if you can catch "Cars" at a theater that features digital projection, by all means, do so! 
  3. Car fans of all ages and interests will find something to enjoy. Not only do NASCAR racing fans get their moments, Indy and Formula 1 racing fans will too. We're talking Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Darrell Waltrip, Jay Leno, Mario Andretti and Michael Schumacher – all in cameo roles here.
  4. This is the longest Pixar film to date. By the time you have sat through a showing of "One Man Band" and "Cars," almost two hours will have passed. In other words, do yourself a favor and skip the bladder-buster soda from the concession stand. I didn't find time to make an exit for a bathroom break anywhere in this one.
  5. My spies tell me that Warner Brothers have added a brand new trailer for DNA Productions' "Ant Bully" (opening July 28th) to those being shown ahead of "Cars."

So, on with the review …

Like many Pixar films, "Cars" has a central character placed into an unfamiliar situation. And much like those other characters, Lightning McQueen will have lessons to learn along his way. Also like those other films, this character will meet others who will help him see the error of his ways. Call it formulaic, if you will. But I found it was a story filled with laughs as well as lessons. As well as something to interest all of the members of the audience.

As for the rest of the cast of characters, they also share traits with some of their predecessors. Again, not a bad thing. But some time, I do hope that -- on some future project -- that the story breaks out and has a cast that does more than have a hero in crisis, a wise old-timer, a love interest and a comic sidekick. (Okay. So that formula worked for all of Roy Rogers' films. But that was how many decades ago?) And the town of Radiator Springs manages to have all of those characters and more, just like any small town along Route 66 does.

The voices cast for the film get a B+ in my opinion. While I felt that some of them were spot on (Such as Paul Newman as Doc Hudson), I wish that a bit more effort had been given to looking for new or newer voices. There are a lot of voices out there that would have been just as good or better than some of those retreads from previous films. And I really wished that they could have chosen someone for the voice of Lightning McQueen who sounded more like a NASCAR driver. More of a North Carolina kind of voice would have been all the better as a rookie racecar on the big circuit.

Richard Petty as the voice of The King (right)
was a great choice to honor the legacy of NASCAR drivers
Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

Larry the Cable Guy as Mater the tow truck is the one really bright element of voice casting. With as many tow truck drivers as I have talked with over the years, his voice just sounds right to me. Maybe it is all those odd hours on the road that has something to do with that?

Mater indeed understands "Get R Done!"
Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

Now, as far as John Ratzenberger goes … Okay, enough. The gag is done. Played out. Someone hand him his retirement papers from doing any voices for Pixar films. Please. It has almost reached the point where it's not funny any more.

But if what they say about Pixar is true (I.E. That "the story is king" at that studio) ... Then shouldn't Pixar's goal be to give its stories a new perspective? And to do that ... Well, that means new character types too. I mean, creating characters that audiences can identify with is obviously important. But giving us something new to identify with should not be a challenge that goes unanswered either.

Okay. Enough with criticizing "Cars" story & vocal casting. As for the film's art direction ... Audiences are not in for any disappointments here. Having had my own visits to both a big NASCAR racetrack and some of the towns along Route 66 this last April, I was greatly impressed by the level of detail brought to the screen. Everything from that blue haze of the afternoon sunlight off of the mountains to the intimate points of detail of the many small town features makes a difference to the stage set for this tale to unfold for us in the theaters. As seen in "Art of Cars" book, those research trips along Route 66 definitely paid big dividends in the finished product.

Views from along Route 66 in New Mexico
Photos by Roger Colton

Comparing the real to the created …

Flo's V8 Café in Radiator Springs
Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

I have to give credit to everyone who worked to make the characters of "Cars" and the world they inhabit believable. Taking something big and inanimate as a car and making it move in a way that appears human was no easy task. Done clumsily or without thought, it could have made the characters less convincing. But the opposite is the case with this outing as audiences will have no trouble accepting this vehicular world as plausible. Luckily we aren't asked to make any big leaps to suspend our collective disbeliefs.

As for the soundtrack, it makes great use of contemporary and vintage music. One very funny scene in particular owes the mood to the choice of a song; one I strongly doubt finds its way onto the sound system of the cars that inspired this scene.

But more Randy Newman? Again, I wish that someone else had been able to give a bit more of an automotive flair to the score for this film. It just sounded a bit too much like the scores that Newman had produced for previous Pixar projects for my tastes.

Randy Newman (left) & John Lasseter (right)
put the finishing touches on the film's soundtrack
Copyright 2006 Disney / Pixar

In the end? Yes, I enjoyed Pixar's latest film and I think that you will as well. All of my reservations to the contrary, "Cars" really is a winner. In this world of instant gratification where you don't even have to get out of your car for everything from coffee to banking to matrimony, we all can heed the simple message of "Slow down" that this film has to share.

After all, the journey is the reward, isn't it?

Next week: Roger returns to his regular "Ruminations" slot with a look at the characters of "Cars" as they become reasonably priced collectibles.

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  • Having read both reviews, I'm not that fussed about Roger's grumpy pants. I'll still be there as soon as I can get off work. I'd call those both some seriously positive reviews, and I'm more excited than I was before.

    Roger, I think your concerns are dead on: they are concerns that I had before seeing the movie, in fact. But I'll reserve judgement until I see the movie tonight before deciding how damaging the formula cast is. After all, I had decided both Randy Newman's music and John Ratzenberger's voice sounded the same in everything. Then I really learned of Randy's huge and diverse resume in things I'd seen but would never have guessed, and having to look for John's name in the credits of Incredibles before realizing where he was.
  • I just came back from seeing "Cars", and #1, it was awesome, and #2, I wanted more Randy Newman.  To each his/her own!  And, I don't think Roger's a Mr. Grumpypants.  It was a positive review!
  • Well, I just got back from seeing it, and...it's not one of Pixar's best IMO. It has a terrific beginning, but it just drags drags drags in the middle. Its theme - stop and smell the roses - doesn't ring true because the best parts of the movie are on the race track! I was frankly disappointed. Too bad...
  • i also just came back from CARS.
    I liked the pacing alot, I thought it was well suited to its story and theme, which I found to be extremely mature and rather beautiful.
    the sensitive moment (when the porsche girl car - what was her name?- is telling lightning about how the town was irrevocably damaged by the interstate) was very touching, nearly acheiving the admittedly impossible to top- jessie left in the box at the salvation army pick up- moment in TOY STORY 2 for sheer heartbreakedness.
    leave john ratzenberger alone! i think its nice that he has a little side career going, and i appreciate pixars loyalty in using him.
    end credits=WONDERFUL!
    tony shaloub- WONDERFUL!
    paul newman - WONDERFUL!
    larry the cable guy - WONDERFUL (which suprised me cause i usually cant stand him)
    All in all, an excellent B string pixar film (along with BUGS LIFE and MONSTERS INC.)
    Not as instant a classic, maybe (as i consider the a string pixar films to be TOY STORY, TOY STORY 2, FINDING NEMO, INCREDIBLES) but certainly better than the current crop of competitors cgi crap coming out these days!
  • Thanks for the comments folks!

    I saw it again tonight with a real crowd of fans. Even found a few more goodies such as the Apple race car, appropriately #84.

    And thanks to everyone who actually read my thoughts on the film.

    A minor correction. It's not grumpy pants... They're the cranky pants.

    "I don't care who you are. That's funny!" Mater
  • I saw it last night with my girlfriend at a drive in. How appropriate was that?

    I really enjoyed the film. I personally thought this was Newman's best score. The music that played during McQueen and Sally's drive was just beautiful (reminded me a Soarin' in some ways). And I would be very dissappointed to suddenly not have Ratzenberger in a Pixar film. It's lasted this long. I don't see it as a joke really, but as Pixar calls it a  "good luck charm." So far, it seems to be working. I'll definitely try to see this film again soon. Now that I saw it on a drive in movie screen, I'm dying to see it in digital.

    Also, the movie may seem even better to me considering the film they showed after it at the drive in was The Shaggy Dog. Anything would look good compared to that.
  • Amazing! I do not understand how Pixar keeps doing it! It is unevitable, I think this film is going to stomp Over the Hedge, I see Dreamworks has been putting out commercials everywhere for "Hedge" like crazy. But guess what! When I got to my local movie theater, I just smiled, as I saw the line. The line, went straight, then curved, and went on for some 100 ft. It took us 20 minutes to get our advance tickets for "Cars." I will tell you this much, Pixar has done it! Another Big Hit! It should have no difficulty passing the 70 million dollar mark. I guess we'll know by tomorrow! I'm so excited!
  • Both Cars and Hedge are two of my favorites of the summer thus far.  Both had me laughing so hard I was crying.  Especially Cars during the end credits and the effects of a Red Bull on a Squirrel in Hedge.  As far as the fun stuff in Cars: Mater's whole backwards driving thing was a hoot and and Guido was an unexpected treat.  Sure Rog, I can understand why you think Ratzenberger has become overplayed, but for me, it's seeing how they usen him in the movie is what makes the Pixar flicks all the more fun.  Besides, he's become somewhat of a lucky charm for Pixar.  It doesn't matter what part he's in, it's a welcome thing to have him in the movie at some point.  
  • Nice review, for the most part.  I disagree on two points.  First, what's the big deal with Ratzenberger.  Without him, the end credits wouldn't have been half as funny.  Also, I have no problem with Owen Wilson doing the voice of the lead instead of some Carolina voice.  To make such a suggestion gives the impression that you don't pay much attention to NASCAR.  It's not just a Southern sport anymore.  Drivers are from all over.  In fact, it's quite possible that they patterned McQueen after Jeff Gordon, who was born in California and grew up in Indianapolis.  Definitely not a "North Carolina kind of voice".
  • Larry the Cable guy is only in this film because the great Jim Varney passed away.  Period.

    Yeah, he's good here, but he tracked his hillbilly hate comedy mud into Pix/Dis, which I must say is not worth his performance.

    Ratzenberg is a made man.  He cannot be questioned.  His performance is always funny, never seems like a forced issue, and I don't see him as a celebrity voice (ala Brcue Willis).  He's a great faceless voice.  Is it a problem Sterling Holloway always sounds like Sterling Holloway?  Of course not.  This is a ridiculous argument.
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