Cars (John Lasseter & Joe Ranft, 2006)


[Voices] Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Paul Newman (Doc Hudson), Bonnie Hunt (Sally Carera). Screenplay by John Lasseter, Joe Ranft et al. Directed by John Lasseter and Joe Ranft. Rating: PG. Running time: 117 minutes.

In Cars Pixar take their humanisation of inanimate objects to the extreme: not only are the main characters cars, but everybody is a car – even the crowd at the film’s main races are cars packed into the stands. This is quite ambitious. Toy Story works partly because Woody and Buzz are ultimately humans, insofar as they have arms and legs and look like us dressed up. Even WALL·E for all its robotic pretences still has a healthy dose of people in it for its main sequence. Here, however, there is literally nothing but cars. They flirt by flashing their lights, smile by bending their bonnet and frown, wink or whatever through their windscreen. They drive themselves.

I don’t think this is a problem in itself. Pixar still manages to make these characters sufficiently understandable – not least, of course, because they speak English. The issue here that drags Cars down, and probably makes it their weakest feature by quite a way, is the nature of the story. It’s kind of like nostalgia and reminiscence about the good old days when small towns and communities marked stops on deserted routes across the various States back in the 50s, before motorways came along and wiped them out. Is this the kind of social commentary we want from Pixar, or that kids are going to connect with? It reminds me of many of the problems with Shark Tale – that animated effort from Dreamworks was full of homages and in-jokes related to The Godfather, but they couldn’t help but feel ridiculously out of place.

Same goes for the story here, which grows to monopolise the film’s main focus over what was hinted at at the start – a racing rivalry, which admittedly would have become equally boring if it had taken up more time than one race at the beginning and the start. But the old-town memories are no better as an alternative. Sure there’s a tale of friendship, self-discovery and bla bla bla a la Up weaved in here, but it isn’t compelling like the Woody-Buzz or Wall.E-Evie relationships we grew to love. Shame there’s a Cars 2 on the way, that seems destined to break the production’s company’s flawless record of never failing to disappoint with its sequels.

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