Every 18 months or so, Pixar brings out a film to remind the makers of other computer-animated films how action scenes are done.
The Emeryville animation studio's latest entry, Cars, starts with a brilliant sequence on a NASCAR-like race track. Wheel's-eye views offer a visceral sense of the automobiles' power. Some shots zoom right up to bumpers of cars traveling at breakneck speed.
Directed by Pixar creative mastermind John Lasseter, Cars adds plenty of warmth and sweetness to its visual wizardry. This film should please children and parents alike, though both probably will notice the picture's slow middle laps.
During the opening sequence, hotshot Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) rounds the track without heeding warnings from his pit crew that he needs to stop for service. Like the crew members, Lightning is mechanical.
Having gone human and super-human in its last film, The Incredibles, Pixar abandons people altogether in Cars. Adoring female fans are Miatas, and tail-gate partiers outside the stadium are talking RVs.
In a world populated by vehicles, looks count. After the race, Lightning is wary of visiting the tent of his lower-tier corporate sponsor -- the makers of a rust-removing product -- because he knows the fans who use the product will be there. In Cars, rusty vehicles are the unwashed masses.
Though cocky and snobbish, Lightning is never unlikable. Wilson's delivery, often slightly unsure or questioning, lets us know that Lightning's arrogance can easily be deflated.
For a self-centered show-off like Lightning, there's nowhere to go but a small town where he will discover the emptiness of his value system as well as his tank. There's a recognizable formula in Cars, and it's not Formula One.
Directed by: John Lasseter
Starring: Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Paul Newman (Doc Hudson), Bonnie Hunt (Sally Carrera), Larry The Cable Guy (Mater), Cheech Marin (Ramone), Tony Shalhoub (Luigi), Guido Quaroni (Guido)
Running time: 116 minutes
Taiwan Release: Today
A freeway mishap leads Lightning to Radiator Springs. The one-time jewel of Carburetor County, the town has experienced hard times since the freeway siphoned traffic from Route 66.
After drawing the attention of the local fuzz, Lightning appears before the town's judge, a 1951 Hudson Hornet lent Paul Newman's gruff authority. Lightning is sentenced to community service, and more specifically, to repaving the community's main road.
Despite the town's depressed economy, the local merchants are vibrant and hopeful. A hydraulics-happy lowrider, voiced by Cheech Marin, wants to customize every vehicle he meets. A VW bus, given hippie-mellow voice by George Carlin (Tommy Chong apparently wanted too much money), touts the benefits of organic fuel.
Radiator Springs also features an obligatory character for any film or TV show about a small town: the smart, sophisticated, attractive young person who is unusually attached to his or her hamlet. In this case she's Sally Carrera, a Porsche, lawyer and one-woman Chamber of Commerce voiced by Bonnie Hunt. Lightning's innocent love interest, she's the Gilmore girl of Cars.
Though ostensibly the second leads, Newman and Hunt don't get many chances for animated glory. The judge carries an intriguing secret, but his subplot is never explored to its full potential. A former hotshot lawyer in Los Angeles, Sally mostly helps teach Lightning to take things more slowly.
The idea of stopping to smell the roses won't much register with kids. Four-year-olds so rarely get caught up in the rat race. But adults will appreciate the message.