Recently I complained that X-Men: The Last Stand blew a great opportunity to actually make their movie about something other than special effects and explosions. So often in the steamy hot days of summer Hollywood insists on making movies that entertain the eye but don’t really stimulate the mind, which is why I find it ironic that two of the most thoughtful films this summer season have been animated films laden with messages.
The recently released Over the Hedge was an anti-consumerist diatribe disguised as a kid’s comedy with cuddly animals, and now, here comes Pixar’s Cars down the track. On the surface cars is a story of a hotshot young racecar that gets sidetracked on the way to a career-making race. Stranded in the small town of Radiator Springs he learns about the true meaning of friendship and family. So far the story could have been ripped from any number of animated kid’s stories, but leave it to Pixar to deepen the story subtly adding in a wistful look at how the Interstate system of highways devastated the small towns that dotted the fabled Route 66. It’s not quite Jack Kerouac, but it is an effective comment on the high price that society pays for progress and convenience.
Not that kids will care about that. I think kids—young boys especially—
will be drawn to the colorful animation of these big-eyed cars. It took me a few minutes to warm up to the characters—the shiny cars aren’t as immediately lovable as previous Pixar characters like Nemo or Mr. Incredible—but as usual Pixar has cast the voice talent so well that it doesn’t take long to start thinking of these hunks of steel as flesh and blood. They are full of life and each has a unique personality—there is the brash Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson, the embittered but wise Doc Hudson, brought to life by Paul Newman, a rusty old tow truck played by Larry the Cable Guy (who jokes that he gained 1700 pounds to play the part before he learned that it was an animated movie) and even George Carlin as a VW bus who doesn’t seem to realize the 60s are over.
Cars is a solid family movie with good life lessons and is touching tribute to a by-gone era in American life.
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