Cars 1 & 2
Cars (June 8/06)
With its distinctly laid-back pace and emphasis on overt sentiment, Cars is undoubtedly destined to confound and annoy both younger viewers and steely cynics. The latter will be turned off by the cliched storyline and saccharine-laced conclusion, while the former will most likely grow restless during the movie's seemingly uneventful mid-section. But for viewers sick and tired of the never ending glut of mindlessly wacky computer animated films, Cars surely comes off a refreshing change of pace. Set in an alternate universe where automobiles have all the attributes of human beings, Cars revolves around the misadventures of hot-shot racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) - who is sentenced to remain in a small, out-of-the-way desert town until he repairs the road that he accidentally destroyed. While there, he encounters a whole host of quirky characters - including a grizzled judge (Paul Newman), a dimwitted tow-truck (Larry The Cable Guy), and a sassy lawyer/love interest (Bonnie Hunt). It goes without saying that Cars looks absolutely amazing, and one can't help but boggle at Pixar's ability to top itself with each successive film (this is especially impressive when you consider the jaw-dropping visuals of their last effort, The Incredibles). The lush, almost photo-realistic backgrounds are counterbalanced by the cartoonish look of the cars, with the end result a movie that's always fascinating if only on a purely visceral level. Likewise, filmmakers John Lasseter and Joe Ranft have done a superb job of matching this eclectic group of characters with just the right performer - something that's true even of Owen Wilson's turn as the brash and cocksure Lightning McQueen. And although the movie is packed with one top-notch performance after another from folks like Tony Shalhoub, Michael Keaton, and Bonnie Hunt, it's Paul Newman who quickly emerges as Cars' secret weapon. The actor brings a palpable sense of depth to this admittedly quirky tale, and there's little doubt that he'd be a shoo-in for an Oscar nod were animated films taken seriously at the Academy Awards. Though it does take a while for one to settle into Cars' relaxed groove, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist the earnestness with which the film has been imbued. There's a distinct sense of warmth and heart at work here, which - when combined with the skill of the Pixar gang - results in a movie that's almost impossible to dislike (and, if nothing else, the filmmakers deserve kudos for transforming Larry The Cable Guy into an engaging figure).