Film review: Cars (2006), directed by John Lasseter and Joe Ranft
From Disney and Pixar comes the animated story of a world inhabited by anthropomorphic cars, and there are no humans. Which apparently gets debated a lot, because who builds the cars and everything? But let’s let that slide because it’s just a piece of fun, a kid’s movie, so lock your disbelief in the garage and go with it.
Famous rookie race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is about to win the hugely popular Piston Cup, but he ties with two other cars, amongst them the bold Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton), and has to travel all the way to California to take part in a race to settle the score once and for all.
But, in transit with Mack the truck (John Ratzenberger), McQueen slips out of the truck by accident and ends up on Route 66, in a little town called Radiator Springs, which saw its better days before the big interstate was built. There, because his arrival causes some considerable damage, he’s sentenced to community service – to fix up the road he so carelessly managed to ruin.
But can the self-obsessed McQueen get to California in time for the race, or will he be stuck in “hillbilly hell” forever?
You’d never accuse Disney of making films with big damn moral lessons for kids, would you? Oh, you would? Well, good, because here’s another one.
Cars is fun, very nicely (computer) animated, and for children in need of a moral code, you learn that being an egotistical, fame-hungry swine who keeps firing your pit crew because you can “do it yourself” and you “don’t need them” is bad. Being a nice, caring person who supports your local community is good.
Even if said community is a dying town in the middle of nowhere, whose inhabitants range from big city attorney Porches like Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and sensible doctors like Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) to charmingly buck-toothed tow trucks like Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), alternative fuel-peddling hippie Volkswagen minibuses like Fillmore (George Carlin) and Italian tyre salesmen and Ferrari aficionados like Luigi (Tony Shalhoub).
Also has Jeremy Clarkson as the voice of Harv, McQueen’s manager, in the UK version. (In the US version, the part is played by Jeremy Piven.) Clarkson is of course one of the three presenters of Top Gear, so his voice is immediately associated with cars over here and therefore fits extremely well.
It’s an imaginative twist, to have the cars themselves as people. There are even little bugs flying around, which are indeed Bugs, and there is even the automobile equivalent of cow tipping – tractor toppling – to cause a few giggles as well.
For those not particularly interested in the automobile industry, it’s still a nice little film about a group of cars trying to get by, and teach a brash little git to grow up and be a team player. It’s not exactly unpredictable, but it’s definitely charming, and there are some funny parts to it. The sort of film that says that friendship is more important than winning big tournaments or getting big sponsorship deals.
It’s also an effective way of showing what damage a big motorway can do to a small community that relies on the business it gets from being on a through route, and that can be put into many different perspectives – such as what a big supermarket can do to small, independent shops on the high street. Worth a thought, and that’s what Cars made me do as an adult – think. As a child, I’m sure I would’ve got more than enough entertainment from the cars or the fart noises the tractors make as they land on their backs.
So, regardless of your age, if you don’t mind being hit over the head with a morality tale in the shape of a red racecar, Cars is pretty good. And before you too spend quite some time wondering if a red and a blue car getting together would create a purple child, and yes, yes they will. There’s an example of this in the audience near the end.
There’s no singing involved either.
4 out of 5 traffic cones.