Toon Talk: CARS
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by Kirby C. Holt
Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
MPAA Rating: G
It had to happen sooner or later. Following the groundbreaking debut of the first fully-computer animated feature film Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios set out on one of the most impressive winning streaks in movie history. Five blockbuster hits followed (including two Oscar-winners), as popular with audiences as with critics the world over.
So it is ironic that their first "lemonâ€? is titled Cars (in theaters today), John Lasseter's return to directing duties after seven years as producer. A muddled storyline, a wishy-washy main character surrounded by stock stereotypes, an overlong running time ... all these factors add-up to a film that should have been sent back to the garage for a tune-up.
We first meet our protagonist, the cherry-red, hot-shot hot-rod Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) in a protracted prologue that finds the red-hot rookie a finalist in the Piston Cup Championships. But during his road trip to California for the finals, McQueen is side-tracked, just off of "historic Route 66â€?, in the one-gas pump town of Radiator Springs. His speedster ways run him afoul of the local lawman, Doc Hudson (a gravel-voiced Paul Newman), a hard-nosed hard-top judge who sentences McQueen to repave the road into town that he destroyed upon his destructive entrance into the sleepy berg.
In order to get his job done so he can get back on the road to glory, the big city roadster finds he has to down-shift to the pace of the laid-back locals, including a comely Porsche named Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and a hick tow truck known as Mater - as in "tow-materâ€?. As all "fish-out-of-waterâ€? tales of this type, McQueen grows fond of the "slow laneâ€? just in time for him to be forced back onto the fast track to racing fame.
The first Pixar film to have no human presence onscreen whatsoever, Cars is set in a USA of PTA (planes, trains and - mostly - automobiles), and the production design (especially the gorgeous red-rock desert vistas) and character animation are, as would be expected, top of the line. Where the film stalls out is in what Pixar is known for (at least if you have ever sat through any John Lasseter interview): the story.