“Cars” review

When I first saw the teaser trailer for “Cars”, I was worried. The whole idea, of people-like talking cars, just didn’t seem like a good idea for a movie. I was familiar with the teevee commercials with talking cars, and that seemed OK for a short 30 second spot, but a full-length movie?

But… it was Pixar, and they had an awesome track record. So of course I would give them a chance.

Because I didn’t see the movie right away, I saw reviews here and there, and sometimes the reviewer loved it, and sometimes the reviewer had reservations. More often than not, they didn’t like it. All that, of course, fueled my self-doubt… but, again, it’s Pixar. They haven’t made a bad movie. So even if “Cars” is bad, is it bad overall, or just bad for a Pixar film?

I needn’t have worried.

Several things combined to leave me with a good impression of “Cars”, and if anyone else is well-inclined to these things, too, they are likely to enjoy the movie.

First, the lead character, Lightning McQueen, is voiced by Owen Wilson, and his personality shines through. Other reviewers have dissed the main character as an “asshole”, and it’s true that Lightning is self-centered, but he’s also living inside a bubble of success that I found it easy to dismiss his more obnoxious traits on his lack of experience with the world outside of the closed world of racing. I bought into the character based on the vocal talents of Mr. Wilson and the context in which the character lived.

Second… duh. It’s about cars. There’s a sexy Porsche with the car-equivalent of a butt-hat tattoo (that only shows when her spoiler deploys). All kinds of motor vehicles get a character in the film, from tractors and combines, to fork-lifts, to street cars, pick-up trucks, semis… even trains, blimps, helicopters and jet planes. I don’t recall seeing a motorcycle, however – I’ll have to watch for that next time.

Third, the whole idea of the mythology of Route 66 is one that is as much a part of me as the color of my eyes or the language I speak. My dad met my mom while on a road trip – he was selling magazines for money, and she was a divorcĂ©e waitress in a diner. Or so they told me… Dad settled down once he met mom, but I swear the wanderlust has been passed down to me, because the scenes in “Cars” of just driving along the open road fill me with the longing to take the wheel and just go for a drive.

Next, and somewhat connected, the animators at Pixar apparently went on a road trip of their own; they give thanks to all the roadside attractions, businesses, and people they met along Route 66 during the credits. I heard somewhere (I’ll dig up a link later) that they collected vials of sand and dirt from along the way, in order to get the colors right. And the natural scenery of Carburetor County, with its buttes and mountains shaped like Cadillac fin, fenders and engine parts, is so well-done that it feels like an exceptionally clear dream.

As usual there are so many in-jokes I couldn’t possibly recount them all, and that adds to my enjoyment of the movie. One of the first movies I remember seeing was Steve McQueen in “Le Mans”, my dad dragging the family out to see it. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember taking a poster home to hang on my wall, and the sounds and sights of high-powered engines revving stay with me 35 years later. So the obvious reference of naming the main character after Steve was inspired. It’s touches like that, that a kid might not get, but someone with more experience will, that adds layers to Pixar’s movies and set them above any other so-called “family fare”.

My guess is that other reviewers may not have had the same level of affection for the topics at hand and therefore may not have been drawn into the movie as I was. And I recognize that the movie has flaws – the previously-mentioned association with teevee commercials, and the plot’s strong resemblance to the Michael J. Fox flick “Doc Hollywood” both show that the folks at Pixar are either geniuses of homage or derivative. I don’t care. The parts of the movie I love overshadow the few parts that don’t quite match up.

“Cars” is highly recommended.