Pixar animation is onto something with its choice of subject matter for its newer films. The company that has given us cherished hits such as 'Toy Story' and Finding Nemo is now making animated films that are really in essence movies. Notice not only how their running times have progressively increased over the last couple of releases (Cars is their longest film yet, beating the length of even 'The Incredibles') but also how they have shifted from exploring entirely original settings to exploring subject matter that belongs to different genre's in the world of filmmaking. Think of it as old wine in a newer bottle.
In 'Cars' we get Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) who is cocky, undisciplined and in need of some guidance. A rookie car brimming with promise and talent on the racing circuit, he is expected to win the marathon 200 lap finale, but ends up in a tie with two other cars after an incident on track leaves him without the use of his rear tires. A tie breaker is needed for which he has to have to travel to California, but on his way there he is separated from his transporter truck and eventually lost. In a bid to quickly catch up on lost time, he is reprimanded for speeding while traveling through the sleepy small town of Radiator Springs and sentenced to community service there, which involves repairing the road he has wrecked. During his brief time here he will learn important lessons about living and the shelf life of sportsmanship from the world weary Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), who hides a secret behind his fatigued demeanor.
As an animated film, 'Cars' is something of a unique hybrid to the medium. Like 'The Incredibles' which was a superhero film on one level and also a film about the tribulations of family life on another, 'Cars' is really two stories amalgamated. On the surface it's a sports film about winning, fuelling personal passions and the conflict of choosing the right sponsorship deals, but then it shifts gear and moves to explore the idleness of a simple life, away from the bustling brutality of Americana. Though the film is surely exciting and humorous about its choice of sport before it reaches this stage of story metamorphosis, it is here that it becomes tender and witty in its observations of human characteristics, personified by automobiles. I was warmly reminded during this portion of Frank Darabont's sweet 'The Majestic', about a man who suffers amnesia and finds himself in a town that he becomes attached to but must eventually leave.
The key to success for any Pixar movie is the love and attention given to it. 'Cars' is no different. It is not only extremely well animated (the screech marks of the rubber hitting the roads are visible on the tracks) but also amusing in its rich details (the clouds are tire tracks, mountain tops are shaped like car bodies, Jay Leno appears as Jay Limo). A special mention must be made of the choice of the McQueen for the name of the speed car. In all probability it is most likely an ode to Steve McQueen, that gregarious anti hero of films from the 60's and early 70's, himself a race car enthusiast and a daring stuntman. Though slightly derivative in structure and longer than it should have been, the film is a champ and knows just enough about sports cars to entertain us with great races, but thankfully more about life to really become worth cherishing.
Note: Arrive on time and also catch 'One man band' before the film, a charming short by Pixar, about two rival musicians who compete for the attention (and money) of a little girl. - Faizan Rashid