Review by LOUISE PIMM
Out of gas
THUS FAR, Pixar has given voices to bugs, toys, monsters and fish, so why not cars? Although Cars is arguably the weakest animated feature to emerge from the virtual drawing board of this successful company, it’s also the best animated film to come along since Disney distributed The Incredibles. What made Pixar great in the past was its amazing character work and stories, but, unfortunately, neither meet the company’s high standards here.
Cars takes place in a world of automobiles, where there are no humans or animals, where even the flies are tiny cars with wings. Owen Wilson provides the voice of Lightning McQueen, a rookie racecar striving to win The Piston Cup. When he ends the season tied with his two chief competitors, Chick Hicks (voiced by Keaton) and The King (voiced by Petty), it’s off to a winner-takes-all tie-breaker in California. However, along the way, Lightning wanders off the motorway and gets stranded on Route 66, in the tiny Carburetor County town of Radiator Springs, which was a lively town but now slumbers on a memory of an earlier America.
Lightning is arrested for traffic violations and is sentenced to repair the road before being allowed to continue. At first, he resents this, but soon forms friendships with some of the population of Radiator Springs.
Cars brings two well-worn clichés to the animated realm. The first, the uneasy relationship between an older gent and a young hotshot, and the second, the message that life was better in the old days, revolving around small towns where everybody knew each other.
Driven by its characters – Doc Hudson (voiced by Newman), Sally the Porsche (voiced by Hunt), Fillmore the hippie VW beetle (voiced by Carlin) and Sarge the veteran Jeep (voiced by Dooley) – Cars, unfortunately, doesn’t resonate in the same way The Incredibles or Toy Story did.
As usual, the voices are expertly chosen. Owen Wilson has the requisite mix of brashness and likeability to play Lightning, the self-absorbed car who discovers there is more to life than winning races. Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson sounds wise and world-weary and Bonnie Hunt has abandoned her usual sardonic style for a brighter one. Racing fans will appreciate contributions from Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Mario Andretti and Michael Schumacher.
The humour is aimed at all ages and although some of the comedy will go over the heads of younger viewers, there are plenty of gags for the junior members of the audience to appreciate. The film represents solid family entertainment, but, while Cars may cross the finish line ahead of any of 2006’s other animated films, it’s several laps behind its Pixar siblings.
RATING * * *