Welcome to part 7 of Pixar-thon, my 13 part mission to review the Disney Pixar movies. Today we look at what many considered to be the worst movie of the bunch (at least until its sequel came out), Cars. But does it really deserve all the scorn it gets? Let’s find out.
Lightning McQueen is a hot-shot racecar with a pedal to the metal mind-set. Because he’s the up and coming rookie, he lets all of the fame and attention get to his head, making him conceited and spoiled. While on the way to California to compete with some of the biggest racers in the league, Lightning gets separated from his crew and ends up in the small town of Radiator Springs, where he accidentally destroys their main road. The townscars don’t particularly care for his smug attitude, and won’t allow him to leave until he fixes the damage he’s caused. While the collateral takes time to fix, he learns that he underestimated the simpler cars and they eventually warm up to each other.
A while ago when I reviewed A Bug’s Life, I called it the black sheep of the Pixar lineup. That wasn’t exactly an accurate phrasing, since I think A Bug’s Life is actually pretty good, but doesn’t get recognized that often. If there’s any movie that deserves to be called the black sheep, it’s definitely Cars. Since it came out, Cars has been the one Pixar movie that it’s okay to not like or even outright hate. Say anything bad about Toy Story, Finding Nemo or Wall-E, and people will treat you like a heretic. Mercilessly bash Cars like it was the latest Uwe Boll film and hardly anyone will bat an eyelash. I’m just going to come out and say that I don’t particularly love or hate Cars. If I can sum up Cars in one word, it would be “meh”. But while I don’t despise it with the same vitriol that most do, I must say that it still has a lot of problems.
Let’s start off with the premise. Now Pixar has worked with premises that have been done before, like toys coming to life when their owner isn’t present or monsters scaring kids as their career, but they were able to pull some real substance out of those basic concepts and do things with them that no one has done before. With Cars, I think they kind of backed themselves into a corner because while the idea of a world inhabited by sentient cars may seem interesting, I don’t think it offers a lot in the way of creativity. When you hear about a movie full of anthropomorphic cars, it sounds more like a satire of a Pixar movie than something Pixar would actually do. Although I must give credit for making these cars so sentient, there was only so much they could do with it.
So what does Pixar do after selecting such a rigid premise? Select a rigid story of course! Reading the plot synopsis about, chances are that you can predict the rest of the movie pretty much beat for beat. It’s basically the “guy living the high life getting dragged down to the slums and learns the value of hard work” type story. Once again, not a lot you can really do with that story.
With the characters, they were basic by the numbers stock characters who only served one purpose. Lightning McQueen’s attitude didn’t really kill it for me, but there were times when he really pushed it. The background characters were pretty much one note slates with one-dimensional personalities you can guess just by looking at them (the jeep is a hard-nosed drill sergeant, the Volkswagen van is a hippy, so on and so forth). Which was really disappointing because Pixar has put a lot of effort into all their characters, even their secondary ones, were so vibrant. For them to go from creating side characters like Rex, Roz, Crush, or EDNA FREAKING MODE, to pulling out of the spare parts bin seemed like a real cop-out move. The only character I really liked was Doc Hudson, the retired racer who calls Lightning out on his arrogance and kicks some sense into him. But even then he was the type of character that you must have in this kind of scenario, and a lot of his likability had to do with Paul Newman’s own voice acting. I could go on a tangent about Mater, but don’t worry, I’m saving all my energy for when I eventually get to Cars 2.
I guess when you really get down to it, Pixar made a movie that was just… meh. Not bad, not horrible, just… meh. Now I realize that I’ve been kind of harsh in this review, but I just want to make it clear that I don’t completely hate this movie. There were some redeeming qualities. The animation was great and some of the jokes got a laugh out of me. Considering what they’ve done in the past, everyone held such high expectations that it was inevitable that almost everybody (the die-hard Pixar fans especially) would be let down. Luckily they were able to pick up a bit after this one, but if there’s anything that Cars has taught us, it’s that the people at Pixar aren’t gods who pump out masterpieces in their sleep. Even some of the greatest filmmakers had at least one stinker in their repertoire. Francis Ford Coppola made Jack, Steven Spielberg made Minority Report, and in Pixar’s case, they made Cars.
I give Cars 5/10.
Seven down, six to go.