After seeing the teaser trailer for Cars about a year ago I was preparing myself for the first Pixar failure. The story sounded dull, and the characters looked clumsy and unconvincing. But not only is the movie far from a failure, it is among the best of the Pixar collection.
It shouldn’t work. The fact that it does, and does so well, is a tribute to the skills of Pixar’s artists and storytellers. I must admit, the car is far harder to anthropomorphise than the insect or the fish, and it did take a while to warm to the characters, but by the end of the movie I actually cared about them.
The story follows the career of cocky young racing car named Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) who gets waylaid in the quiet backwater of Radiator Springs on his way to race for the Piston Cup in California. At first, he proves unpopular with the locals, and his over-confident city ways only get him into more trouble. But, as Lightning gets to know the residents of Radiator Springs – Mater the Tow Truck, Sally the Porsche, Fillmore the hippie VW, and town patriarch, Doc Hudson – they begin to see a more likeable, generous side of him.
Of course, during his stay in Radiator Springs, Lightning learns much about life. He falls in love with Sally the Porsche, finds a new ‘best friend’ in Mater, and uncovers the secret history of Doc Hudson (voiced by screen legend and racing buff Paul Newman). He also learns of the town’s former glory days, before it was bypassed by the interstate freeway.
Will Lightning get the ‘girl’, save the town, earn the respect of Doc, and win the Piston Cup? These various plot strands come together nicely in the last moments, and there is still room for a few unexpected developments.
Cars is not devoid of clichés and stereotypes (grouchy patriarch versus young upstart, the obsequious Italian tyre merchants), but given the freshness of the rest of the film, and the lush visual treatment, these can probably be forgiven. The movie is stunning to look at, with some gorgeous landscapes and many other beautiful details. Indeed, it is the fine details that set Pixar movies ahead of the rest, and Cars is no exception, with each frame filled with original ideas and images.
As is usual for Pixar movies, there are plenty of jokes. It’s not as funny as Monsters Inc or the Toy Story movies, but there’s still enough to amuse most people. Stay alert during the final credits. I laughed most at a series of gags slipped in when most people were filing out of the cinema.
Judging by the number of previews screened before Cars, computer animated films are here to stay (at least, for a while). Unfortunately, few filmmakers seem to be able to balance the various elements of the animated film as well as Pixar.
You can see why they might want to keep trying though. John Lasseter and friends make it all look so easy.