Cars – Movie Review

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Cars is set in a world where there are no people, but cars are alive (it sounds a bit eerie, but you have to remember that it’s a cartoon so you’ll get over that feeling quite easily). The hero of the story is an up-and-coming rookie race car (i.e. athlete) named Lightning McQueen, who’s tapped to be the latest winner of the coveted Piston Cup. Unfortunately, on the road to his victory, he gets sidetracked into a small town where the colourful locals (all cars, of course) have been left behind by progress (a.k.a. the interstate freeway)—the perfect place for a city-slicker like McQueen to learn some life lessons. The story is not so new (remember Doc Hollywood, My Cousin Vinny, or the TV series Northern Exposure?), and neither are the lessons, but that’s not where Pixar movies really shine—it’s the lovable characters. The character types may not be that original: naive hick who becomes hero’s sidekick; curmudgeonly old-timer who teaches hero by stolid inspiration; cute love interest who shows hero the appreciation of the simple life; and a mishmash of other quirky characters that might be stereotypes but sure are funny. If you’re not yet impressed, need I remind you that these are cars? Large, cold, quirky metal vehicles!

When I finished watching the movie I was amazed by what endearing and warm characters these cars became. But when I gave it some thought, it seemed right on target for Pixar. This is the movie company whose mission seems to be bringing cute life to things which normally defy cuteness. First, with Toy Story (that’s not much of a stretch—toys may not be warm, but many of them are cute); then Monsters Inc. and A Bug’s Life (monsters and bugs are both typically living, but hardly cute or endearing); finally Finding Nemo featured cold-blooded fish (the least affectionate of pet animals) and made them lovable. (I don’t know where superheroes fall into this continuum so let’s just call The Incredibles an aberration.) Now, with Cars they have managed to turn hard inanimate objects into a cast of characters that any kid would love to collect plush versions of from the Disney Store. What’s next? Will Pixar tackle the adventures of a big-hearted ice cube? Then perhaps the inspiring tale of a family of root canals? I’d watch it. Their talents in this area seem boundless.

Pixar’s other forte is top-notch visuals. The racing scenes are amazing. I admittedly don’t watch a lot of NASCAR, but the way the shadows and lighting moved with the cars looked extremely real to me. Also, thanks to computers, audience viewpoint can be on the ground as cars whiz overhead, or follow the cars speed for speed around the track—things that would be difficult for a real camera to accomplish. Besides the racing, the scenery (sky and landscapes) is excellent as well. There’s still the (I believe intentional) brightness and colour of the scenery that’s a little more-than-real, but you do get a sense of wide spaces and deep perspective when you’re supposed to. I felt like the roads were really roads, too—which is important in a car movie.

Suffice to say, despite the slightly less inventive qualities of Cars compared to some of their past creations, Pixar has not lost its touch. Cars is a great all-ages movie full of stunning visuals and heart-warming and humourous characters. (Also, if you watch the movie, don’t skip out on the credits or you’ll miss some hilarious send-ups of past Pixar moments.) (4 out of 5)

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