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Soooo ... Did Michael actually like "Cars"? And Howe!

Soooo ... Did Michael actually like "Cars"? And Howe!

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Way back when I was just a little boy, our family would take road trips out west to visit relatives. One trip, we arrived early into Gallup, New Mexico, where we'd be staying on the second leg of our journey. After going out for dinner, my Dad took us for a small spin around town. In the dark of the night, nothing looked familiar, but as we turned onto a small stretch of road he asked: “Do you know what road this is?”

“No,” I replied.

“We're on the old Route 66,” was the response. At that time, I had no idea about the old "Mother Road," or how much of our journey was taken on the "Super-Slabs" of new highway. But our little journey up and down a small stretch of Route 66 that night was a nice little way of stopping to smell the roses, and kind of kick back a bit from the monotonousness of highway driving.

Today, as we've entered the 21st Century, the world keeps going faster & faster and many struggle to keep up with the pace. Our burgers are never cooked fast enough. We get frustrated at the thought of a 56k modem for the internet. Even speed limits of 70mph mean little to many. We all seem to be in a hurry ... But for what? Sometimes, just the few chances that we get to stop and smell the roses end up being the memories we hold onto. And that can mean more to us than just trying to save that extra 10 minutes of drive-time.

This is the message of Pixar Animation Studios' latest release, “Cars.”

The film focuses on the racing hotshot, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson). A rookie of the racing scene, Lightning has been burning up the racing circuit all season, putting him in the running to win one of racing's highest awards: The Piston Cup.

Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar

But Lightning has got some competition if he expects to get to the top. Also gunning for the top award are racing veteran The King (voiced by racing legend Richard Petty), and Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton), a racer who will resort to underhanded means to come out on top.

Unfortunately, Lightning also has a bit of an ego problem. Keeping his image and flashing his "lucky sticker" for the press takes more precedence than having a good pit crew, let alone giving much respect to his sponsor: Rust-Eze Medicated Bumper Ointment.

Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar

On the final trip of the season, Lightning loses his way and manages to get lost on Route 66. Where he ends up in "a heap of trouble," according to the resident Sheriff (Michael Wallis) of the sleepy little town of Radiator Springs.

For causing such trouble, Lightning is sentenced to community service for several of his reckless actions. Of course, Lightning would just as soon ditch the little town and get to the big race.

Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar

There has been a lot of talk since the first teaser of "Cars," way back in the Fall of 2004, where some felt that the idea of talking cars was a step backwards for Pixar. However, the idea of animating a car looks as difficult as it took to imbue fish in "Finding Nemo" with personality (fish have no shoulders, which is also the same kind of problem with cars). But Pixar does nothing short-sighted. They explore all possiblities. And when it comes to their latest subject, they've pulled off their latest task with gusto. In "Cars," axles extend, tires flatten, and the car bodies contort so believeably that you may start imagining what your own car would be like if it was alive.

Character-wise, Pixar hits almost every character with detail, that even the lesser-used characters have their little moments that capture so much of the essence of this film.

Owen Wilson plays Lightning with a great sense of cockiness, but for one of the most understated performances, I was drawn to the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, Doc Hudson (played with grandeur by acting legend Paul Newman). Pixar and Newman give Doc such a subdued personality, that his dark and mysterious persona will draw audiences in.

Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar

One of the most controversial character castings (According to the numerous forums I've browsed for the last year) has been in the casting of Larry the Cable Guy as Mater the tow truck. Many have felt that this was one of the steps backwards in Pixar's casting troupe, but Mater had a good friend along the way: Pixar's late storyman Joe Ranft. Ranft and the Pixar gang found an old tow truck in Kansas, and Ranft then began to craft the role of Mater from that little encounter. After watching the film, my admiration for Ranft swelled. Mater is one of -- if not THE -- funniest characters to come out of Pixar in a long time. Mater isn't some redneck doofus. He may be a little rusty behind the mirrors, but Mater just wants to have a good time. At times, he almost resembles a playful puppy dog, jumping around on his axles. If anything, it just seems that Mater really just wants to make friends.

Much of the film takes place in Radiator Springs, and the surrounding grandeur of Ornament Valley. The landscapes are so beautiful, and there's a majestic beauty in the rock formations, shaped like car fenders and hood ornaments. Even some of the flowers that blow by are shaped like vintage taillights. The setting sun over the hills casts such beautiful pastel-shades that you almost wish you could be standing there in the sand and dirt,watching the long shadows play over the surroundings.

Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar

Music also plays a key in the landscape of "Cars." Randy Newman returns to the fold. But this time, he's accompanied by several other artists such as Sheryl Crowe, Rascall Flatts and even James Taylor. Of almost all the artists, I think it's going to be James Taylor's song that will resonate the most with the audience. His song "Our Town" is to "Cars," what "When She Loved Me" was to "Toy Story 2." I won't lie when I say that I felt my eyes dampening during Taylor's number. I think if anyone came from a small town somewhere, and watched as it seemed to get smaller will get something out of this song.

It's been over 1 ½ years since Pixar released their last film and -- if anything -- that last extra half-a-year has probably added to a growing eagerness to see this film. In this day and age, it's difficult to find decent films, let alone those that will leave families feeling that their hard-earned money was well spent. For those who may be wondering, "Cars" is definitely worth it and more. Pixar has never talked down to their audiences, and it shows. The parents will get some of the jokes, and the kids will laugh at some, and then later -- when they grow up -- they'll go "Oh, that's what he meant." I'm already planning to see it again with my friends when it comes out, and I know they'll enjoy it as well. Personally, this is the first time this year I've been so eager to put down $9.50 to see a movie again!

Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar

One last thing. Take a look at the picture above. This little guy is named Guido. He's the assistant to Luigi of Radiator Springs' store Luigi's Cassa Della Tires. Though he's small and only knows 2 words of English ("Pit Stop"), I can assure you this about the movie: Guido will have his "moment." And when he does, you'll know, dear readers ... You. Will. Know.

P.S. And remember don't leave once the credits role. "Cars" does have a special treat at the end for the audience, and they even give their "good-luck charm" a fun little roast (from the most unlikely of vehicles).

Copyright 2006 Disney/Pixar

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  • After seeing this film last night, this is the review I would write.  Completely imersive in the storyline.  What I found most fascinating, however, was the running time of 116 minutes.  Almost two full hours of animated film.  What is the longest animated film (that had any success)?  That it would keep me and the rest of the audience captivated shows the true power of Pixar storytelling.
  • I saw Cars with my girlfriend yesterday.

    The thing I love best about the film is the endless use of coloring and the background designs. Pixar has been demolishing uninformed speculations that computer animation is inferior, particularly to hand-drawn animation. In the next 10 years, we'll be seeing a lot more computer-animated films following examples from this craftsmanship.

    The movie does push the 2-hour mark, but that's another good thing. Most animated films are between 75-90 minutes long, and for many, the story feels rather short, and it feels like much more could've been done with it. Pixar, however, is exploring ALL possibilities with their films. Don't be surprised if somewhere down the road, someone decides to risk a THREE-hour animated adventure. If given all the possibilities, I'd certainly pay to see it.

    The film is in no way a step back for Pixar. We've seen cartoons about toys and bugs made before A Bugs Life. There's been stories about aquatic lifeforms long before Finding Nemo. And a few of you may still remember a certain Nicktoon that came before Monster's Inc.

    Concerning the ending dedication to Joe Ranft, and his major involvement in Cars: My guess is at some time, John Lasseter would've either given Joe Ranft a solo story, or promoted him to (executive) producer. We'll just have to see how Pixar will continue without him.
  • I certainly agree that Mater is arguably one of the funniest Pixar characters ever.  Without him, the movie would have been seriously hurt.  I've really liked the last four Pixar movies.  To me, they each have had strong points.
    A Bug's Life:  Great Characters and music
    Finding Nemo:  One great tear-jerking movie
    Incredibles:  Wonderful story
    Cars:  Great humor

    Well done Pixar.  So glad your with Disney to stay.
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  • This is a very famous animated film!

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  • The film is in no way a step back for Pixar. We've seen cartoons about toys and bugs made before A Bugs Life. There's been stories about aquatic lifeforms long before Finding Nemo. And a few of you may still remember a certain Nicktoon that came before Monster's Inc.


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