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Features - Film Review

JUNE 22, 2006



Pixar Cars

I have a 12-year-old son and so going to see Pixar's new animated movie Cars was never really an option. And, if the truth be told, I went with some trepidation that I would be America-ed to death with the usual gooey schmaltz that one finds in Disney movies of all kinds.

Instead I was surprised and impressed. Cars is a great movie on a number of different levels. The animation work can only be described as astonishing. Admittedly, I am not a great expert in these matters but I was amazed by the progress than has been made in computer animation. How did they manage to make the subtle lights in a forest look like a forest? And how did they deal with all the reflections and water? It was truly remarkable.

The concept of having talking cars is nothing really new. Almost every cartoon these days has talking animals so it is not exactly a big step to believe that cars can communicate. The clever thing about this movie is that in order to give the machines a more human face the decision was taken to go away from the usual idea of using the headlights as the eyes and the radiator grill as the mouth. The people at Pixar decided that in order to make the cars seem more human they would use the whole of the windscreen for the eyes. This and the movement of the suspension to suggest different moods and sentiments - without the cars being too pliable to be believable - created a cast of cars that were a lot more human than one would have expected.

All of this was, of course, helped by good characterization. Owen Wilson, who voiced-over the main character Lightning McQueen - a rising NASCAR star - was perfect for the role and was ably supported by the likes of Paul Newman and others. Add to this the real-life characters thrown into the mix such as The King, voiced by none other than Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip making all the right noises as track caller Darrell Cartrip and even cameo voices from the boss of Charlotte Motor Speedway 'Humpy' Wheeler, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Mario Andretti, Jay Leno and Michael Schumacher.

The story was a classic Hollywood moral tale starting with a flashy and arrogant Lightning McQueen in a wild NASCAR-style race for "The Piston Cup". The film then slowed as the racing trucks headed out west and McQueen managed to fall out of his truck and ended up crashing into the sleepy town of Radiator Springs (quite literally), ripping up the main street.

In order to make up for this he is sentenced to community service, to repair the road. As he does this, so he learns to respect and like the characters he finds. Radiator Springs is a town on Route 66 - The Mother Road - but the world has forgotten it all since the new freeway was built to save 10 minutes of driving time. The characters are charmingly eccentric, adding colour, amusement and depth to the story. There is Doc Hudson, the long-forgotten and secretive NASCAR champion (the car is based on the Hudson Hornet that won NASCAR races in the early years), the sexy little Porsche Sally Carrera and a rusty old tow truck called Mater (Tuh-mater without the "tuh"). The town teaches him to slow down and in turn he inspires the cars there to rebuild the place. The message in all of this is that friends and the community are more important than fame and the winning is not the ultimate goal.

There is more than a little irony (unintended) in the fact that the message of the movie is that winning is not everything and that the only F1 involvement in what is in effect a 116 minute commercial for NASCAR (although the name is never mentioned) is a brief appearance by a car voiced-over by Michael Schumacher, who is not perhaps the best advert for that concept. Perhaps he should watch the movie and learn a few tricks.

Still, it is a good film and is going to be a success. It cost $70m to make and made $62.8m on its first weekend in the United States. It is expected to pull in more than $270m in the months ahead - which will be about average for a Pixar movie.

In the end I had a good time and my son left the movie theatre, in the words of Mater, the tow truck, "happier than a tornado in a trailer park!"