Reviewed in the United States on November 10, 2006
Rookie race car Lightning McQueen might "float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beamer," but, at 116 minutes, CARS still took a leap of faith that it'd be able to hold the attention of its targeted rugrat audience. But, because this animated film is helmed by the Pixar folks (who apparently can do no wrong), CARS is diverting enough, oooh-inducing enough, and plot-worthy enough that the two hours mostly fly by in attentive bliss.
The story and its message itself are nothing new - about how one should take the time to slow down, smell the flowers, and just aw-shucks appreciate life's awesomeness, and also how it's about the journey, not the destination...Trite, you say? Yes. But, you know what? Contrived and derivative though CARS's storyline may be, that time-worn message is still given brand new luster by the very credible and honest voice performances of the all-star cast and by the very outstanding and glossy animation provided by the Pixar Animation Studios. Owen Wilson (the cocky but inevitably likable Lightning McQueen), Paul Newman (the gruff Doc Hudson), and Larry the Cable Guy (that nutjob Tow Mater) are particularly wonderful in their roles; but every actor involved is nicely cast, including NASCAR legend Richard Petty as veteran race car champ The King.
I appreciated and was moved by the movie's touching portrayal of the sparsely used Route 66 and its discarded mini-town Radiator Springs, which became forgotten when, to save an extra 10 minutes of driving, an interstate highway was built which bypassed it. This movie's world may be wholly populated by cars but one could certainly feel for the forlorn folks of Radiator Springs and their plight. The extra feature segment "Inspiration for CARS" delves more into Route 66 and its pit-stop towns that were left behind, which proved to be the basis for Radiator Springs.
Special Features include 2 animated shorts: "Mater and the Ghost Light" (where everyone gets their revenge on the prank-pulling Mater) & the great "One Man Band," CAR's full 4-minute-long epilogue shown without the end credits (where you can fully relish the automobile film versions of TOY STORY and MONSTER, INC.), the "Inspiration for CARS" segment with director John Lasseter, and over 10 minutes of deleted scenes.
So, is CARS as good as Pixar's past monster hits? Heck, no. But CARS, on its own merit, is definitely worth watching. While it doesn't make you consistently laugh out loud, you'll get a chuckle here and there, and you'll end up having a good time. You might even feel a twinge of nostalgia or a pang of regret at the passing of a Route 66 that was at its heyday. Certainly, James Taylor's music helps to evoke those feelings. The voice cast plays their A-game, and, as usual with these Pixar cats, the animation is really something to behold. I had no idea automobiles could be so expressive and could garner such empathy. I went into this film when it first came out, thinking, "Huh, cars that talk. Okay..." But the movie did such a good job that when I walked out, I thought of these cars as real folks, though housed in steel, rubber, and a coat of paint. Doc, Mater, Sally, Guido, Luigi, Lightning McQueen...they're all good folks. So, yeah, man, by all means, let's go tractor-tipping. But, shhhh, don't let Frank catch you...