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Laramie Movie Scope: Cars

Another winner from Pixar animation

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 10, 2006 -- “Cars” is yet another can't-miss animated film from Pixar animation (now owned by Disney). The team that makes these hit films could sure teach some lessons to the rest of Hollywood about how to write compelling stories and how to make good films. Pixar has churned out one hit after another, including “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo.” “Cars” is yet another sure-fire hit. It is entertaining, colorful, and it has dazzling images and clearly-defined characters. Most of all, it has a strong, compelling story, the very ingredient most films lack nowadays.

“Cars” tells the story of a race car, Lightning McQueen, who is the top rookie in the top racing car circuit. He, like all the other characters in the movie, is a car, not a person, but he behaves like a person, complete with an oversized ego. The name, Lightning McQueen is similar to other character names in the film which conjure up images of real people and movies, like legendary driver and actor Steve McQueen, and the Richard Pryor car racing film “Greased Lightning.” McQueen, fresh off a three-way tie in a big race, is headed west to California for the biggest race of his young career, a three car championship-deciding race between McQueen, ruthless racer Chick Hicks and the old champion, The King (voice by stock car champ Richard Petty).

On the way, he gets lost and ends up in Radiator Springs, Arizona where he is forced to repair a section of a famous highway, Route 66, that he tore up on his way into town. Radiator Springs is a mythical place that seems to be surrounded by some of America's finest scenery, inspired by Monument Valley and Yellowstone National Park. It is peopled by a variety of distinctly individual cars, including homely tow truck, Mater, Doc Hudson (voice by Paul Newman, another actor who is also a race car driver), Sally Carrera (an attractive Porsche, naturally), Ramone, a low-riding paint shop owner, Luigi, an Italian tire shop owner and many others.

McQueen falls in love with Sally Carrera and finds friends among the other cars in town, including Mater, who becomes his best friend. McQueen had been so self-centered before his arrival at Radiator Springs that he had no friends at all. After spending several humanizing days at Radiator Springs, McQueen finally gets back to his interrupted journey to the big race in California, but the lessons learned and the friendships found in Arizona don't get left behind. The basic story of this movie is very similar to “Doc Hollywood,” “City Slickers” and the “Northern Exposure” TV show. A big shot city slicker rolls into a small town, interacts with colorful local characters, and gets his emotional comeuppance, finally finding a place for himself in the sticks. It is a story about forming friendships, growing up, finding one's place in the world, learning about the importance of humility and learning to trust and rely on others.

Numerous actors voices can be heard in this film in addition to those already mentioned, including Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Bonnie Hunt, Larry The Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, George Carlin, Katherine Helmond, Michael Keaton, Jeremy Piven, John Ratzenberger (who has been in every Pixar film) and many others. A number of celebrity voices can also be heard, including sportscaster Bob Costas, talk show host Jay Leno (who gives voice to the character Jay Limo) and real-life race car champions Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Schumacher. Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers), hosts of the popular NPR program, “Car Talk” can be heard in the film as race car sponsors Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze. Michael Wallis, author of “Route 66: The Mother Road,” provides the voice of the Sheriff of Radiator Springs. Wallis' love of Route 66 is very much a part of the film. The character Sally Carrera (Hunt) even uses the term “Mother Road” during the film.

Nostalgia for the glory days of Route 66, for a time when the pace of travel was more leisurely, and for the forgotten towns along freeway-bypassed highways is a central theme of this film, highlighted by the heartfelt Randy Newman song “Our Town” sung by James Taylor. The film's soundtrack includes songs by Cheryl Crow and Brad Paisley as well as that old standard, “Route 66” and the Tom Cochran song, “Life is a Highway.” This is a film rich in sound, sight and character. It is a sure-fire hit. The only problems I had with it is that it is overlong and it is slow-paced in places. It seems as though the filmmakers had trouble making the multiple transitions from action to romance to comedy at times. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)