Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Owen Wilson……….Lightning McQueen (voice)
Paul Newman……….Doc Hudson (voice)
Bonnie Hunt……….Sally Carrera (voice)
Larry The Cable Guy……….Mater (voice)
Cheech Marin……….Ramone (voice)
Tony Shalhoub……….Luigi (voice)
Guido Quaroni……….Guido (voice)
Jenifer Lewis……….Flo (voice)
Paul Dooley……….Sarge (voice)
Michael Wallis……….Sheriff (voice)
George Carlin……….Filmore (voice)
Katherine Helmond……….Lizzie (voice)
John Ratzenberger……….Mack (voice)
Joe Ranft……….Red/Peterbuilt (voice)
Michael Keaton……….Chick Hicks (voice)
Richard Petty……….The King (voice)
When it comes to legacies in film history it’s easy to talk about but harder to leave one in the annals of cinema. Actors come and go by the boatload but over the years few have managed to leave as enduring a legacy as Paul Newman. As he nears the end of his career in his early 80s, the question isn’t if or how Newman is going to be remembered. It’s how he’s going to finish up his career. And if Cars is to be the last film he stars in, it’s not a bad way to exit.
Cars is Pixar’s latest animated feature, delving into the world talking vehicles while it seems the rest of the animated genre is focused on talking animals. Top of the line racing car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is a phenomenon on a NASCAR-inspired circuit in his rookie season, dreams of fame and fortune in his eyes. McQueen is the embodiment of the egotistical athlete, the emptiness of his pomp and circumstance style of life starting to draw into his conscience. Having wound up tied in the Points race at the end of the season, McQueen is left with one last race between himself, a retiring champion (Richard Petty) and an upstart rival (Michael Keaton) for the Piston Cup. With seven days to drive, fate leaves him stuck in an old town off Route 66 called Radiator Springs. McQueen is forced to stay after tearing up the town’s main road by the city’s judge Doc (Newman) and winds up finding out a lot about himself and his existence through the townsfolk, building up to a final showdown with a well-done finish.
And the first thing that’s easily noticeable about Cars is the quality of the animation. While Pixar has raised the bar for animated films with each release in terms of just sheer beauty, it seems, Cars is perhaps its best rendered film so far. There’s so much to marvel and look at during the film; Pixar is not resting on its laurels from prior films and is clearly trying to show the animated world just how the best in the business perform when it comes to the summer blockbuster season. There are points in the film where the characters marvel at the sights and scenery of the Radiator Springs area and its hard to not just be in awe of just how good the film looks. It’s easy to just look at the animation and not even notice the story, and that becomes part of the problem of the film that keeps it from being a great film.
The film’s story about discovering yourself from the perspective of McQueen is a good one that has a nice character arc to it but isn’t developed nearly enough. The film’s focus is on the animation and many times the film’s story and pacing take a backseat to the animation. There supporting cast’s character development comes up short as the film tries to incorporate many different scenes and sequences to show off the animation; at points in the film when some good character development is connecting and the story is moving there are noticeable breaks to show off the art of the film. There’s also a certain nostalgic look at the 1960s and the heyday of Route 66 that seems out of place in the film as well; times have changed and the era’s flaws seem to be nonexistent as the film raves about how great things were before the highways and byways of America cut out places like Radiator Springs.
And it’s a shame as this is perhaps the best cast animated film in quite some time. Wilson and Newman have a great chemistry together to start with and the film’s story does put them in roles that are tailor-made for their careers at this point. McQueen is a rookie who is rising to the top, Hudson is an old veteran who has been there already and both actors seem to resemble their characters. Wilson is on the fast track to the top of Hollywood as one of its best young comedians and Newman is at the end of one of the greatest acting careers of the last 50 years. The supporting cast is also well-placed; it’s interesting to think with all the acting talent available that some of the best material and scene-stealing moments come from Larry the Cable Guy as Mater, a tow truck who takes an instant liking to McQueen. Toss in George Carlin as a hippy VW Bus and Guido Quaroni & Tony Shalhoub as a pair of Italian racing fans for some quality laughs across the board, as well as Bonnie Hunt as McQueen’s love interest Sally Carrera, and it’s an entertaining romp that finally gives American racing fans a good film to call their own.
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