Cars (G) ★★★

Review Date: June 9th, 2006

Pixar’s latest visual stunner with a heart of gold honors our obsession with the automobile. Although it will make many nostalgic for the open road, especially the historic Route 66, the kids might get a little bored with this one.


Set in a world inhabited only by motor vehicles, Cars is sort of a cross between Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood and NASCAR. The main hero is a hotshot rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)--an obvious homage to the late fast-driving Steve McQueen--whose one goal in life is to win the Piston Cup and bask in fame and glory. Yet, on his cross-country trip to the Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros (real-life legendary racer Richard Petty voices the reigning champion The King), Lightning finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy--and forgotten--Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. There he meets its colorful denizens--including Sally (Bonnie Hunt), a snazzy 2002 Porsche, who owns the local “rest” stop; Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), the town’s rusty but trusty tow truck; and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), a 1951 Hudson Hornet, who rules the town with a steady hand, er, wheel. Together, they all help the cocksure Lightning realize that there are more important things than trophies, fame and sponsorship.


If Pixar calls, you come running, so it isn’t at all surprising how impressive the Cars vocal line-up is, starting with legendary screen icon Newman as the Doc. Come on, being the race car driving nut that he is, you think the 81-year-old actor would say no to voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet who has his own mysterious past in the racing world? Hell no. The rest of the cast also seem to have a good time channeling their inner car, from Wilson’s snarky speedster to Hunt’s cute and sexy Porsche, a big-city lawyer who decides to get out of the fast lane. Supporting voices include Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub as Radiator Springs’ low-riding body shop and Italian Fiat tire shop owners, respectively. Even George Carlin gets into the act as a groovy ‘60s VW wagon, who sells “organic” fuel. Good stuff. Of course, what Pixar flick would be complete without its comic relief? Although he’s no Ellen DeGeneres as a short-term memory impaired fish, Larry the Cable Guy fills in nicely as the dim but sweet Mater, the ultimate hick tow truck.


Having been out of the directing loop since his 1999 sequel Toy Story 2, Cars marks Pixar’s golden boy John Lasseter return--and this is his big love letter to the splendor that is the automobile. Of course, his demand for perfection took its toll. The animators had to come up with a new technique called “ray tracing,” which allows the car stars--that are metallic and heavily contoured--to credibly reflect their environments. Even with a sophisticated network of 3,000 computers and state-of-the-art lightning-fast processors that operate up to four times faster than they did on The Incredibles, the average time to render a single frame of film was 17 hours. Still, all that time spent pays off. Cars is a real visual treat, with another firm grasp in storytelling. Sure, it’s a bit of a vanity project and may shoot way over the kiddies’ heads, making them squirm a little during the “slow” parts. But as one of the recently appointed top guns at Disney, Lasseter can do just about anything he wants these days--and we are going to love it, dammit.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.