UK Certificate: PG
US Certificate: PG
Intended audience: All ages
During the Golden Age of Pixar (ie all their films between Toy Story and Toy Story 3), I would argue they produced not a single dud. However, some dispute this by inexplicably pointing to 2006’s Cars. I have never been able to understand why. Yes, Cars is slower paced, but in a film about burnout and enjoying life before it passes you by, this is entirely appropriate.
Director John Lasseter’s premise for Cars certainly doesn’t bear too much deep thought (one particularly hilarious article I read online recently spoke about the history of Cars containing a Cars Hitler and so on). However, although the sequels were not of the same calibre, the original film was to my mind something of a triumph, despite the story bearing an uncanny resemblance to lesser seen Michael J Fox movie Doc Hollywood.
Said story concerns up and coming Lightning McQueen, an arrogant, cocky young race car who insists he doesn’t need friends and works alone. Whilst travelling to a big race, he gets lost through a series of unfortunate incidents, and ends up wrecking the road in the backwater town of Radiator Springs. Sentenced to community service, he is told he has to repair the road before leaving. At first, he can’t wait to go (“I’m in hillbilly hell! My IQ is dropping by the second!”), but gradually he makes friends and discovers the importance of slowing down once in a while.
The colourful characters in Radiator Springs are memorable and beautifully rendered, and the vocal talents of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman and other Pixar regulars are put to terrific use. I particularly like the relationship between the “hippy” VW van and the army jeep. Also, look out for one hilarious moment involving “tractor tipping”. Bookended by two intensely exciting race sequences, Cars is rich, dramatically satisfying, and frankly hugely underrated.
Needless to say it is utterly redundant to pour superlatives on the technical qualities of the film, which after Wall-E perhaps remains Pixar’s most visually stunning and achingly beautiful to date. Every frame of widescreen space evokes a jaw-dropping wonder that to be honest really requires a cinema, or at the very least a very large television.
The subtext, about burnout, nervous breakdowns and so on, gives Cars a power to transcend its surreal setting and enables the audience to make considerable emotional investment in the characters. Lightning McQueen slowly comes to learn what is important in life, but his journey never comes across as preachy, and the lightness of touch makes the moral all the more potent.