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Genre: Animation / Comedy
Rated: G
Directed by
: John Lasseter
Starring the voices of: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry The Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, Jeremy Piven, Bob Costas
Released by: Walt Disney Pictures

In Short: A colorful tale of living cars that both kids and adults should enjoy, but it doesn't live up to its illustrious Pixar forebearers.

Coming to a Showroom Near You
Kids Will Enjoy It, But “Cars” Can’t Keep Up With Its Pixar Predecessors
By Jeff Hoyt

Besides exorbitant prices at the pump, global warming and oil spills, we now have something else to add to the long list of things for which we blame the oil companies: not being able to enjoy “Cars.” While Pixar broke animation ground by anthropomorphizing toys, fish, bugs and monsters in their previous blockbuster films, their newest release kept reminding us of the claymation cars featured in a string of commercials for Chevron gasoline with Techron.

These computer-animated cars do have better backstories than their commercial counterparts, as well as funnier lines voiced by more talented actors and hipper soundtracks. But unlike the six prior Pixar releases, here the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts.

The plot concerns cocky race car Lightning McQueen’s (voiced by Owen Wilson) detainment in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs while en route to a championship race. The long-forgotten stop on Route 66, which began to die when it was bypassed by Interstate 40, is populated with stock (car) characters, including a hippie VW van (George Carlin) living next door to a military jeep (Paul Dooley), a dopey, rusty tow truck (Larry The Cable Guy, who gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie), a love interest in the shape of a Porsche (Bonnie Hunt), and a 1951 Hudson Hornet crusty old judge full of surprises (race car owner/living legend Paul Newman). Will Lightning get out of this self-described “hillbilly hell” in time to win the coveted Piston Cup? Will the town change him, and will he change the town? And where are the people?

While “The Incredibles” featured humans and superhumans, and people played important roles in both “Toy Story” films, “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo,” the world of “Cars” appears to be totally devoid of Homo sapiens. Cars watch cars race around a track, cars sleep in motels, cars go tractor tipping for small-town hijinks, and cars even do spit takes with gasoline. As a result, it’s hard for humans to relate to the characters. While there are plenty of laughs—including a few designed for adults (How old do you have to be to appreciate a “Free Bird!” joke?)—there are no emotional moments that resonate, and the film lacks heart and soul.

For an example of how Pixar’s computerized characters can elicit emotions, one need only look at the short “One Man Band” that precedes “Cars” during its theatrical run. This musical battle for a child’s coin between a pair of competing performers garners laughs and wonderment without a word being spoken. So don’t arrive late, or leave early, as the inside jokes that run during the end credits are the funniest of the main feature.

(Updated 06/23/11 CT)

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