Cars review by Mike Long

When the Godzilla remake debuted in 1998, the hype-machine accompanying the film attempted to convince us that "Size does matter". In relation to that film, the message was meant to say that bigger is better. The movie taught us that bigger certainly does not equal better. This is a lesson which can be applied to many things in life. For example, over the last few years the movies from Pixar have gotten longer and longer, but the movies haven't gotten better and better. Their latest release, Cars, is a shining example of how less can definitely be more.

Cars takes place in a world inhabited solely by automotive machines. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is a very fast race car who races on the Piston Cup circuit (very similar to NASCAR). He is in line to become the first rookie to win the Piston Cup if he can defeat his two rivals, The King (voiced by Richard Petty) and Chick Hicks (voiced by Michael Keaton). When their races ends in a three-way tie, it is decided that there will be a tie-breaker race in California. As the cocky Lightning has alienated his pit crew and rebuffs his sponsors, his only companion for the trip is his tractor-trailer transport, Mack (voiced by John Ratzenberger). However, through a series of mishaps, Lightning gets separated from Mack during the night, and, in a panic, leaves the interstate only to become hopelessly lost on the backroads. His heightening anxiety causes Lightning to run amok in the small town of Radiator Springs.

When Lightning comes to his senses, he finds that he’s been arrested and assigned to community service repairing the road which he damaged. He is aghast at this sentence, as he wants to get to California as soon as possible. To make matters worse, Lightning is annoyed by the locals in the nearly-deserted town. Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) is a good-natured but ignorant tow-truck. Doc Hudson (voiced by Paul Newman) is the judge who sentenced Lightning. Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) is a Porsche who is the town attorney. Lightning is not only reluctant to work at first, but he adamantly refuses to acknowledge the other cars. But, as he completes his task, Lightning lets his guard down and begins to learn the history of the town and the personalities of the cars which inhabit it.

50 years from now, when movies will have most likely been replaced by holograms which are shoved in the viewer's ears, some may look back on the early part of the century and ask which company defined computer generated animation. And the answer will most certainly have to be Pixar. But, while dominant, Pixar is not infallible and Cars shows the company at their best and their worst.

As the Pixar folks are consummate professionals and certainly know a thing or two about entertainment, Cars does many things right. First of all, we have the animation. There’s no doubt that Pixar’s work personifies the best in CG animation. (Although, I do think that Blue Sky (Ice Age, Robots) is pretty good as well.) The detail in the cars is amazing (they’ve done some great things with metals and reflections) and the desert landscapes are breathtaking. The scenes where nothing is happening are just as convincing as the shots where race cars are barreling down the track. The characters are charming and likable. We’ve seen talking cars before (ie: those claymation commecials), but the cars here have a lot of personality and a great amount of attention has been payed to their eyes. Even Lighting McQueen, who is supposed to be a jerk at the beginning of the movie, is charming (this is most likely due to the voicework of Owen Wilson.) Speaking of the voice acting, things are top-notch here, and kudos to Pixar for getting Paul Newman involved.

However, Cars suffers greatly in the story and pacing departments. As noted above, Pixar’s films keep getting longer and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Toy Story was perfectly fine at 81 minutes. But their recent efforts have ballooned from 100 minutes (Finding Nemo) to 115 minutes (The Incredibles) to Cars which stands at 116 minutes. I can only assume that Pixar’s success has inspired them to put as much into their films as possible. But this creates problems. For starters, the movie is simply too long. First of all, this film is primarily aimed at children, and the running time far exceeds the attention span of most kids today. Secondly, that length allows director John Lasseter to stuff some unnecessary subplots into the film. The movie’s basic premise, cocky young race car learns to slow down and appreciate life, may not be an original one, but it works. But once Lightning McQueen gets to Radiator Springs, the movie becomes mired in side-stories about how the world has forgotten the town. We then get a heavy-handed message about how, by using interstate roads, Americans have left much of their country behind. A featurette on the DVD sheds light onto why this message is in the film, but that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate. If Cars could have been edited down into a sleek 90-minute racing machine, then the movie would have been much better.

As someone who grew up in NASCAR country and thusly hates the product (note how I didn’t say sport), I had serious reservations about Cars. But, I found the film to be semi-charming. I really liked the characters and the film’s main idea, but the sluggish in the middle took away from the experience. If the excitement of the opening and finale could have been maintained throughout, the Cars could have easily taken the checkered flag.

Cars zooms onto DVD courtesy of DisneyDVD. The movie has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The movie has been letterboxed at 2.39:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The THX-certified transfer looks fabulous. I can only assume that the DVD transfer came directly from a digital source. The image shows no grain or defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, especially the red of Lightning McQueen. I didn't notice any overt artifacting or video noise and the image was always at the appropriate brightness. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio track which is also very impressive. The dialogue is clear with no hint of hissing or distortion. The room was rumbling during the car-race scenes and the surround sound involved as the cars would zip past was quite good. The stereo effects are well-placed as well.

Given the history of DVDs from Pixar, Cars is a bit light on extra features. The charming animated short "One Man Band", which played before Cars in theaters, is included here. It's a shining example of how Pixar can pack a ton of story into 4 minutes. (Unlike Cars.) "Mater and the Ghostlight" (7 minutes) is a new animated short featuring characters from Cars. It's cute, but it's no "Mike's New Car". "Epilogue" (4 minutes) presents the footage viewed to the side of the screen during the closing credits in a true widescreen presentation so that the viewer can appreciate the details. The DVD contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. These are all presented in animatic form and it's interesting to note some of the changes made in the story over time. (Such as the fact that Lightning used to be number 57.) Finally, we have "Inspiration for Cars" (16 minutes) which details how the Pixar crew journeyed down Route 66 with author Michael Wallis (who would go on to voice the Sheriff in the film) and how John Laseter's cross-country trip with his family inspired him to make a movie about the great American highway. This is an unusually emotional featurette, and it's nice to see a segment which focuses on from where the story came.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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