So far, Pixar has given personality to toys, bugs, monsters and fish who, as far as we can tell, live in a sort of "real-world" setting. For this reason, when the idea of these anthropomorphic cars and trucks came along for Pixar's next movie, I turned my nose up at it. I didn't have a problem with it, per se, but it was very clear-cut this time that it was gonna be for kids (in other words, I still hadn't learned my lesson when it came to Pixar's storytelling quality). What I thought this film was going to be was what 'Cars 2' became, but more on that with that review.
'Cars' tells a story that takes place in an alternate world where vehicles take on human qualities while maintaining most aspects of cars we know about. Here, we meet racing rookie, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) who goes up against retiring legend, Strip "The King" Weathers (Richard Petty) and pro racer, Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) in the final race of the Piston Cup. The race ends un a three-way tie, however, and a tie-breaking race is scheduled for one week later at the Los Angeles International Speedway. McQueen maintains a cocky attitude about his skills, and doesn't seem to want or need anyone's help to become a new racing legend. He becomes desperate to get to LA quickly to shmooze with Dinoco; the oil company representing Hicks, in the hopes to switch to them over his less glamorous Rust-Eze sponsors.
McQueen insists that his transport truck, Mac (John Ratzenberger again) drive straight to LA through the night, which results in Mac dozing off and a near-accident that sends McQueen falling out of the trailer, finding himself lost, and soon in trouble with the small town of Radiator Springs after accidentally ruining their main road. McQueen is tasked with fixing the road before they allow him to leave, making him stress about the big race. However, McQueen also meets a group of locals, primarily featuring a Porsche named Sally (Bonnie Hunt), a tow truck named Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and an experienced Hudson Hornet known as Doc (Paul Newman), who might collectively be able to teach him that winning and fame aren't all there is to life.
My opinion on the 'Cars' series has been more or less the same throughout the trilogy (so far) in that these movies are nothing special, and Pixar doesn't exactly strike the same chord here as with other films. For my money, however, I would lean towards the first film probably being the best of the three (at least easily over 'Cars 2'). When the location of Radiator Springs is seen as an aged and forgotten place that once looked awesome in its heyday, it does provoke a certain nostalgia. I think it's safe to say that many of us live fairly close to an area that would have been a lot of fun in a certain time, but now it's old and forgotten just because people have moved on. That aspect of the film is actually pretty moving, and does tug at the heartstrings a little. So it was good to see that the film certainly still had that Pixar heart behind it.
The film's overall emotional impact hits a touch harder when we see that it is dedicated to the late Joe Ranft, who ironically died tragically in a car crash during the filming of 'Cars'. He has several credits to his name in the Pixar collection up to this point - where he would get his credit for co-directing. One has to appreciate that 'Cars' brings the name to the viewer's attention, as if to say "this guy had a hand in everything we've done" (quite literally). He may be best known as a voice actor, but the man worked in the art department and penning scripts as well. Because of this memorial, I end up liking the film more; not just because an important person passed away, but because it makes you take a second look at the film's message of enjoying more of life's simple pleasures and not constantly focusing on one thing, and heading in one direction, as you could be missing something great.
I enjoy 'Cars', but it's unfortunate that it's responsible for launching a whole somewhat failed universe of both Cars and Planes. This series has three movies, and Disney (without Pixar) saw some money to be made by spinning off of the universe with 'Planes' (1 and 2). This was one of those cases where it didn't quite work out in their favour due to rough reviews and poor box office returns, and I'm glad they didn't draw it all out by coming up with something like 'Boats' or 'Trains' next. But if I were to recommend any of the titles from this world, it would easily be this one (followed somewhat closely by 'Cars 3', but again, more on that later). It's a film that teaches us about the highway of life and the idea that every once in a while, you've just got to pull over and enjoy the view.
Writers and Directors