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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Cars (2006)



Reviews and Comments

Cars is perhaps Pixar's weakest film to date. This says more about Pixar and the precedents it has set than it does about Cars. It is a spectacular achievement. It's delightful, it's colorful, it's funny, it's energetic, and none of that even scratches the surface, for the film's most remarkable achievement is how it does something animation is particularly well-suited for but rarely accomplishes: it introduces us to a new, imaginary world that helps us see our own in a new light.

I found an IMDb review of the film that expresses the film's effect perfectly (it's remarkable that an IMDb review is worth quoting, but I digress): "Sure, the 'slow down and enjoy the scenery' message may seem a little routine, but it's a message I took to heart. Immediately following the movie I was on the Internet looking up information regarding Route 66. I'm now ready for a road trip void of interstates and efforts to beat my best time."

As it did this reviewer, Cars made me feel nostalgic for a time and place I never knew and which perhaps never even really existed. There's a time and a place for the guts and the glory, but how much do we miss the heart of things when that becomes our exclusive focus? It goes without saying that the racing scenes in Cars are visceral and exciting -- movies are pretty good at action in general these days -- but what's remarkable is how little of it there is, and how much it isn't missed at all during the long stretch in the middle when we do slow down a bit and enjoy the scenery and, you know, actually tell a story.

What I find absolutely hilarious is that these sorts of feelings were evoked by a movie about talking cars! If even a bad movie can make you care about the dreams, the insecurities, and the love life of talking cars, that's a remarkable achievement. But such is the power of animation, and such has been its power all along. Some of the very oldest cartoons revolve around the anthropomorphization of inanimate objects, be they police cars or telephones or musical instruments or whatever else. Inanimate objects are infused with life and usually take on the role animals have in society: horses and dogs and cows and cats, although you aren't always able to make the connection with any specific animal. And sometimes inanimate objects become the main characters in worlds that are all about them, not us. In 1987, we had a movie called The Brave Little Toaster, which was a hit on video. So why not cars? It follows a long tradition.

One thing I thought the movie did really well is build its world and infuse it with fun little details about how it works. The inhabitants are all modes of transportation -- no humans in sight, and even the insects are really just tiny flying cars -- and that will naturally pose certain logistical problems with the world they live in, which, after all, looks very much like ours. But problems are merely opportunities for creativity, and the solutions they come up with are sometimes a lot of fun. Animated movies in general have been particularly good at this. Shark Tale wasn't that great, but it had its world down brilliantly. Now here's a good movie that does that.

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