Cars (2006)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/29/09
Director: John Lasseter
Music: Randy Newman
Cast: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman

Another bittersweet fairy tale from John Lasseter and the boys at Pixar, with a strong helping of depressing social commentary, cultural guilt, and national shame. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is a hot-shot rookie racecar with his eyes on the coveted Piston Cup. But fame has clouded his mind, and hubris brings his downfall. He has no friends, he refuses to use a pit crew, and he treats everyone like dirt. En route to a big race in California, McQueen gets separated from his trailer and finds himself lost in Radiator Springs along Route 66. He naturally gets stopped for speeding and is incarcerated by the local sheriff. While repairing all of the damage he did to the forgotten roadside town, he slowly starts to appreciate the beauty around him and the importance of friends. He also picks up a few tricks from the town's mayor, former racing champion Doc Hudson Hornet (Paul Newman). Just when he gets adjusted to his new life, the racetrack calls again and McQueen is once again after the title with his new friends cheering him on.

As with all of Pixar's films, "Cars" is simply gorgeous to look at. It captures Lasseter's love of cars and creates a tangible sense of speed. The voice acting is top-notch, although the timing and banter lack freshness. Lasseter seems to be making the same movie over and over again, and "Cars" suffers from feeling too familiar. It also suffers from a cast of characters that are difficult to relate to and aren't particularly likable. The anthropomorphizing of automobiles is a tricky task, and it never looks or feels quite right. As a result, they lack charm and warmth. The heavy-handed social commentary regarding the poor state of the once glorious town weighs the film down with a heavy sense of sadness, guilt, and hopelessness. Lasseter wants to show us that life is a journey and not a destination, but the journey is just too damned depressing. And in the end, we're all helpless to do anything about it.