Judge Patrick Naugle still hasn't learned to drive stick.
Get your speed on!
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, The Internship) is one of the racing circuit's most revered speedsters. McQueen has become an enormous celebrity but is falling into the trappings of fame: he treats his pit crew terribly, believes his own hype, and keeps his eye firmly placed on the all-mighty dollar through sponsors and commercials. When Lightning McQueen heads out west and takes an unexpected detour, he finds himself in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs. There is finds himself in a heap of trouble (and damage) that forces him to stick around and hesitantly make friends with some of the locals, including the town's judge and medic, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke), a mellow VW bus named Fillmore (George Carlin, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure), and a cute little Porsche named Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt, The Green Mile). As Lightning lingers in Radiator Springs, he must come to terms with who he is and what he really wants out of life.
Pixar's Cars could be seen as a turning point for the mega-animation studio, and probably not in a good way. Up until the film's release, Pixar (through Disney studios) had reached the heights to which other animated movies only aspired; with a slew of hits under their belt—Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Toy Story 2—the studio set the gold standard for what could be achieved with computers and a solid screenplay. Pixar became known not just for their beautifully rendered animation, but also for their tight, emotionally rich stories. The audience may have been looking at just pixels and colors, but what we were seeing was true movie magic.
Then came 2006's Cars.
In my opinion, Pixar would never be the same after Cars. I've gone on record many times stating the Cars is my least favorite Pixar film. After sitting through it yet again for this review, it only solidified my stance that Cars just doesn't cut it when it comes to the rest (or most) of Pixar's illustrious catalog. There's just something slightly off about Cars. It could be that, as noted by many folks online, the screenplay does feel cribbed from the 1991 Michael J. Fox comedy Doc Hollywood; or maybe it's the fact that the characters are never as endearing as Pixar would have you believe; it could just be that Cars feels like one long commercial for the inevitable toy line. Somewhere along the way Cars took a detour, and by the time the final frame rolls it can't find its way back on track.
That last sentence came true in ways even Disney couldn't imagine. After the release of Cars, kids all over the earth couldn't get enough of Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater. Disney quickly churned out hundreds of different Cars themed toys, bath soaps, dishware, play sets, T-shirts, fruit snacks, and whatever else could be slapped with movie's logo and likeness. A reviewer shouldn't review a movie based on its merchandising, but sometimes you can't separate the dance from the dancer. Cars saturated the marketplace and in turn seemed to cheapen an already not-so-great Pixar product. So enormous was the success of the Cars marketing line that a sub-par sequel was released years later (along with last year's peripheral title, Planes, without the help of Pixar) just to cash in on the brand name and sell more stuff. Cars is big business, and business is booming…but that doesn't mean the quality of the movies has gotten any better. The same can easily be said for Disney's release, Cars 3D.
All of the voice actors in Cars actually do a commendable job. I find Cars slightly bittersweet because it was the swan song of one of my favorite actors, the irreplaceable Paul Newman. Newman's voice is clear and resonating as Doc Hudson, reminding us of how great of an actor Newman was. He makes a fine compliment to Owen Wilson's cocky Lightning McQueen, who spends much of the film complaining and acting like a spoiled actor (which may be why he's never very endearing). One of the most popular characters is Tow Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. Larry (or is it Mr. Cable Guy?) shot to fame as a popular stand-up comedian. While Tow Mater has his moments, he's a character who works best in small doses. Other actors—including an affable Bonnie Hunt as Lightning's love interest, Tony Shalhoub (Men in Black) as the Italian Luigi, and Cheech Marin (From Dusk Till Dawn) as the amusing Ramone—all give top notch performances. One place I can't find much fault in Cars is with the splendid voice talent behind the scenes.
Pixar has done a great job of making sure the film is colorful with eye-popping visuals and a few exciting racing sequences (the one at the beginning is especially fast and furious). Yet the story lacks any real originality and—most importantly—heart. Pixar's films are often know for their sentimentality (see Up's heartbreaking love story), but Cars more often than not feels like it's running on fumes. Individually some of the pieces work on their own—Lightning's conversations with Doc Hudson, a few of the automobile puns, Randy Newman's fine film score—but the parts never form a cohesive whole. It's as if Pixar's deft touch and Disney's magic fairy dust were forgotten during the final stages.
In the end it's hard to call out Cars 3D as a bad movie. There's certainly nothing objectionable about the film, and some of the scenes have genuine humor that will make you laugh (the cow/tractor tipping scene made me smile). I just wish that Pixar had put a little more work into giving Cars more nuts and bolts for the audience to latch onto. As it stands, Cars is passable family entertainment, but falls far short compared to Pixar's list of great movies.
Cars 3D was released into theaters not long ago in a new 3D conversion, because…well, I guess Disney figured, "why not?" Included on this 3-disc set is both a standard DVD version, a widescreen version in 1080p, and a 3D version in 1080p (all in 2.39:1 aspect ratio). The truth is, both of the high definition images on Cars: Ultimate Collector's Edition looks absolutely perfect. Disney has put much effort into giving Cars the best presentation possible, and it's worked—the colors nearly leap off the screen with every whooshing car that goes by. The 3D effects are fine, though I'm a terrible judge of anything dealing with 3D; I find that the process doesn't really work very well for me, and it tends to give me a headache. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby 5.1 TrueHD Surround and sounds awesome. This is a very immersive audio track with vehicles zooming by and tires screeching all over the place. If you're looking for a reference quality disc for audio and video, this "Ultimate Collector's Edition" of Cars easily fits the bill. Also included is a DVS 2.0 mix in English, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix in French and Spanish, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The extra features on this new version of Cars 3D include the epilogue to the film, the short Pixar film "Boundin' Cars," a "Movie Showcase" featurette, a half hour's worth of documentary shorts ("Radiator Springs," "Character Design," "Animation and Acting," "Real World Racing," "Hudson Hornet," "Graphics," and "Darrel Waltrip Museum Tour"), an audio commentary by director John Lasseter, a second audio commentary by the production team, a few older short films ("Mater and the Ghost Light," "One Man Band"), a few deleted scenes, and a scavenger hunt feature during the film. Also included is a standard DVD copy of the film, as well as a digital copy for your PC or portable devices.
It'll thrill the little ones, but those with true taste know there are far better Pixar movies out there.
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