Set in a world populated only by anthropomorphic motorised vehicles (that also includes planes, trains and motorbikes), the film follows cocky race car, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who is stranded in Radiator Springs, a town in the middle of nowhere, en route to California and the biggest race of his career. But during his time in the town he learns just how valuable life is and learns to appreciate the little things in life.
Cars is the seventh Pixar film, after Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004). All of these incredible animations have been hit, no question about it whatsoever. Cars, however, is the first miss, and so far the only one from Pixar to date. Do not misunderstand this, statement, for it has nothing to do with the animation. As always the animation is absolutely outstanding. It is bright, it is colourful, and it is full of outstanding detail. The dust and sand of Route 66 and the surrounding area feels so real, not too blocky, not too thin and flimsy, but captures real life dust effects down to a tee. Despite being anthropomorphic, talking cars, the cars are still very realistic, thanks to the fact that they still glint and shine in the sunlight. The racing scenes, however, are the most incredible animation pieces of the entire film, fast paced, quickly edited, and made with stunning detail and just feel so realistic to watch, and are very engaging also. In short they are mini-masterpieces, and the animation is all-in-all flawless.
The characters are also good entertainment, with some very good voice performances. Wilson makes Lightning cool and cocky, while Bonnie Hunt makes Sally, a Porsche Lightning falls in love with, very sassy. Paul Newman makes Doc Hudson, a retired race car from the '50s a very deep, complex and amusingly grumpy character, and strong supporting vocal performances are provided by Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, George Carlin, Tony Shalhoub, Michael Wallis, Guido Quaroni, Paul Dooley, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, John Ratzenberger and Katherine Helmond. The most memorable character, however, is rusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Dimwitted, wise-cracking and quite brash, Larry brings great energy and strength to his performance and really steals the film as Mater.
The film's major flaw, however, is the screenplay. All other Pixar screenplays have been deep and complex, but with lots of excellent gags that make the films so engaging. Cars, however, does not have this. The majority of the gags (in other words any gag that doesn't come from Mater) just fall flat, there's nothing well-written or particularly funny about them, and it's just as if they were written by a small child. The racing sequences may be vastly exhilarating to watch and very well made, but they are really let down by almost all of the other scenes in the film, which are dragged out and plod along at a slow pace, making it often hard to keep one's attention. Even the message of the film, is understated. It gets little development, and is barely more than the other characters saying "You need to realize how important life is" to Lightning.
Good entertainment, with outstanding animation, this film is, but it is little more than that. As it is Pixar, and I am their biggest fan I say watch it anyhow as it's enjoyable and you will be left speechless by the incredible animation.
Stars: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, Tony Shalhoub, George Carlin, Michael Wallis, Guido Quaroni, Paul Dooley, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, John Ratzenberger, Katherine Helmond.
Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature (John Lasseter), Best Original Song (Our Town - Randy Newman, James Taylor).
Cars (2006) may have been the weakest Pixar film, and one of the lowest box office performers ($461 million worldwide, while all other Pixar films during the 2000s grossed $526-$868 million), but it made some $8 billion in merchandise, gaining a huge fan base along the way, so a sequel would always be on the table.
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is invited to participate in the first World Grand Prix, and flies overseas with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). However, when Mater runs into British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), he is mistaken for a spy and becomes involved in their mission to stop Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann) from bringing down biofuel Allinol.
Like every single film Pixar has made Cars 2 features incredible computer animation, which brings together every colour imaginable, into what can only be described, visually, as a piece of artwork. All characters, including those in the very background, are very well designed so they look like genuine cars in their slick movements on the roads, but also have a lovely humanesque quality in their expressions.
The locations are also as beautiful in design. Tokyo is bold and dazzling, looking just as incredible in animation as it does in real life; Italy is beautifully rustic, a real architectural stunner; Paris is captured to a tee, even featuring street markets and is just as closely detailed as it was in Ratatouille (2007); and finally London is perfectly recreated in everything, from major tourist attractions, English pubs, Routemaster buses, and black Taxi cabs, bringing a genuinely authentic feel to it.
The film's main drawback is the screenplay, which jumps from the World Grand Prix to the spy adventure more frequently and unexpectedly than necessary. The main issue though is the fact that there are too many ideas crammed in, such as the races, the enquiries of the spies, and the meeting with Luigi's (Tony Shalhoub) family (Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero). Yes the first two are necessary, and slick in design but they are underdeveloped with little substance, and they would work if there was more time designated to the film's running time, therefore more time designated to these scenes. As well as this the jokes are more miss than hit throughout, with foolish gags that just fall flat, and also effortless car puns, such as Big Ben being called Big Bentley, the Radiator Springs cinema showing The Incredimobiles, John Lassetyre and Gusteau's restaurant in Paris (from Ratatouille) being called Gastow.
The characters are a mixed bunch, but the voice cast are good. Generally the characters are all one-sided and potentially irritating but the voice cast salvage them well: Caine brings his signature British charm to Finn, while Mortimer brings her own lovely charm to Holley; Wilson is cool and a lot less cocky as Lightning; and John Turturro brings great energy to the role of Italian racing car Francesco Bernoulli. The problem is Mater, and while Larry brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to him, the character is written to be too overly stupid and just gets irritating. The rusty old tow truck worked as a supporting character, but not as a lead. Throughout the film as well you can't help but miss Paul Newman's Doc Hudson, who following Newman's death in 2008 has been dead for almost a year and the Piston Cup is now named the Hudson Hornet Piston Cup. It was the right decision to kill the character off as a new voice would be a bit tactless, but one can't help but miss the crabby old philosopher. A major drawback, however, is that old favourite characters such as Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mack (John Ratzenberger) have little input to the narrative, while hippie VW Camper Van Fillmore (Lloyd Sherr replacing the late George Carlin) is little more than an extra until the end of the film.
Even further below Pixar's usual standard than its predecessor, this has a lot of flaws, but it is enjoyable, and is a reasonable film for a family to watch. It's just a shame it's not as good as any other Pixars, which is even more of a shame when you think it came after a four year flush for Pixar - Ratatouille, WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) - and broke that great chain of hit, like Cars broke Pixar's original chain of hits that consisted of six films - Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004).
Stars: Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Kretschmann, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Peter Jacobson, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, John Turturro, Paul Dooley, Lloyd Sherr, Sig Hansen, Darrell Waltrip, Stanley Townsend, Brad Lewis, John Mainieri, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Bruce Campbell, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, John Ratzenberger, Michael Wallis, Jeff Garlin, Brent Musburger, David Hobbs, Katherine Helmond.
While the TV series of shorts Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales (2008-) continues to air, there seems to be no plans for a Cars 3, although a direct-to-DVD spin-off entitled Planes is set to be released in Spring 2013.