With the voices of Paul Newman, Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, “Larry the Cable Guy,” Cheech Marin, George Carlin, Richard Petty, Michael Keaton, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Michael Wallis, Paul Dooley, Jenifer Lewis
Directed by John Lassiter
As you’d expect from the folks who brought you movies like “Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” and “Toy Story,” the latest release from Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, “Cars,” is a wonder of animation and a fast-paced, action-packed moral lesson for kids of all ages.
Hotshot rookie Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has one thing on his mind: winning the Piston Cup Championship. And he doesn’t need anyone else to help him do it, especially not his crew, who want him to pit for a tire change during the biggest race of his life. During the final lap, when he’s got a huge lead and is sure to win, he blows two of his tires and crawls to the finish line – only to end up in a three-way tie with his two biggest competitors, Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) and Strip Weathers, also known as “The King” (Richard Petty). The result? A tie-breaking race in one week in California.
On the way to Los Angeles, McQueen ends up in the impound lot after leading police on a chase through the quiet Route 66 town of Radiator Springs that leaves the town’s main road in a shambles. He’s ordered to repair the mess he made before he can leave.
The patience and kindness of the cars in Radiator Springs help McQueen get over his “Don’t you know who I am?” attitude, and eventually the hotshot racer learns that the joy is in the journey rather than the finish line. The film ends with McQueen putting into action what he learned during his stay in Radiator Springs – mainly that compassion, friendship and loyalty are more important than any trophy.
The movie is rated G and is really well done. But there are a couple of things that made me raise my eyebrows, including a graphic crash scene in the opening minutes. OK, so I know the cars are just cartoons and there’s no blood or gore, but it was a little disturbing just the same to see the cars piling up and see the smoke billowing. (I don’t enjoy real NASCAR crashes either.)
There is also some language that I thought might be a little inappropriate for a kids’ movie, like when McQueen refers to Radiator Springs as “hillbilly hell.” I admit that it’s been a long time since I was responsible for the manners of a youngster, but I’m also pretty sure my nieces and nephews would catch heat from their parents for calling someone “moron” or “stupid.”
But the lessons learned far outweigh those minor concerns early in the movie. With the popularity of NASCAR and the amazing animation that brings the cars to life, there’s no question that the kids will love the movie’s colorful characters, loud racing sequences, and quick banter. And hopefully they’ll also understand the message that humility, friendship and responsibility will take you farther than a “me, me, me” attitude.
Radiator Springs’ colorful cast of characters includes Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy); Doc Hudson (Paul Newman); Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), who owns the Cozy Cone motel; tire store owner Luigi (Tony Shalhoub); body artist and low rider Ramone (Cheech Marin) and his wife Flo (Jenifer Lewis), owner of Flo’s V8 café; hippie Fillmore (George Carlin); and the Sheriff (Route 66 expert Michael Wallis).
Making cameo appearances in the film are racing greats Richard Petty (as The King), Darrell Waltrip, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Michael Schumacher; sports commentator Bob Costas (as Bob Cutlass); and hosts of NPR’s radio show “Car Talk” Tom and Ray Magliozzi (as Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze, McQueen’s sponsors). And no Pixar film is complete without the voice talents of John Ratzenberger, who gives voice to Mack, McQueen’s truck driver.
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