‘Cars’ is an animated road movie with heart | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Cars’ is an animated road movie with heart

Howie Nave
Disney/Pixar / From left, Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton), Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), and The King (Richard Petty) fight for the lead during the big race in "Cars."

When was the last time you were revved up over an animated movie with heart? And an animated movie about cars no less! Leave it to Pixar Studios to give us such a movie with just that – heart. Pixar has long proven its track record in this field with such classics as the “Toy Story” movies, “A Bug’s Life,” “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles,” to name a few.

“Cars” blends outstanding animation, incredible voices and, most of all, a story with heart. What? Emotional expressions from an animated feature? Yep. Pixar pulls out the throttle in this delightful feature that will have you secretly talking or at least whispering to your vehicle (hopefully when no one is looking) the next time you take a trip from point A to point B.

“Cars” was originally going to be titled, “Route 66” to signify that journey, but there was talk that the movie might confuse some with the old ’60s television series of the same name. That famous route is still a major attraction in the movie. Director/writer John Lasseter grew up in Southern California where driving rules, and people are known to have love affairs with their automobiles, so he was a good choice to have in the driver’s seat. Of course, it didn’t hurt either that he was also at the helm for the very lucrative “Toy Story” franchise.

What an ingenious way to convey one’s story, by giving cars a personality, too! I mean, how many times have you caught yourself actually talking to your vehicle when it’s low on gas, saying, “C’mom, baby, just a few more miles and I promise I will always keep you full, OK?” Or, how about those days when you couldn’t get her to start and again you found yourself pleading, “Just this once please and I’ll give you that overhaul you so well deserve.” No? Just me? Great. Now I’m embarrassed, but “Cars” is a trip. Literally.

It takes a little getting used to the idea that there are no humans or other beasts. Just cars. After a while, though, you begin to see under the metallic hood of these vehicles a soul. Assigning the style and model of car to a human voice that is best associated with said car is pretty funny, too. The lead car in the story is Lightning McQueen, a hotshot rookie racecar driven to succeed and only cares about winning and getting to the finish line, collecting trophies and all the trappings of success. At first, the obvious reason for the name was because of the late Steve McQueen, who loved fast cars, but I later found out that the character is in reference to Glenn McQueen, a Pixar animator who died in 2002.

Voiced by the always-too-cool Owen Wilson, you can almost see Wilson as the car Lightning McQueen and you wonder, if there is reincarnation, can one return as an inanimate piece of metal? Hmmmmm. He also has an agent in Hollywood who is played by (who else?) Jeremy Piven from HBO’s “Entourage” and dreams of big-bucks corporate sponsorships. Here’s something to spot, too, while watching the movie: In one of the racing sequences, if you look closely at one of the cars, there’s a white one with the Apple logo and the number G4 on it. G4 is a model of the Mac computer (which just happens to be the one I own), which is made by Apple, which in turn is run by Steve Jobs, the chairman of Pixar. Love that stuff.

Anyway, our cocky race car gets sidetracked while on his way to compete in the Piston Cup Championship in California after causing property damage from speeding too much on that famous piece of asphalt known as Route 66. Lightning, with his V8 engine and 750 horsepower capable of 200 mph, never seems to turn off his power and soon finds himself stalled in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs. Here he is sentenced to community service by Doc Hudson, a 1951 Hudson Hornet voiced by acting and racing legend Paul Newman. What a role for Newman, too, playing a classic, and his voice sounds like that of an engine that has seen more than his fair share of miles but still retains perfect timing. Doc is also the town judge, and can still teach the rookie a few things even with a straight-6 and a mere 175 horsepower.

Of course with a movie like this (and with most animated fare) we need to have an assortment of oddball characters to keep the central theme moving along. Doc will be a mentor of sorts to the hotshot Lightning, but it’s the other vehicles that shine, even though most of them could use a new coat of paint and wax. George Carlin voices the VW bus, Filmore, way-mellow and very ’60s. Note Filmore’s license plate, which is 51236. What a coincidence that it is also Carlin’s birth date, May 12, 1936. Cheech Marin voices the character of Ramone. Cheech gives the ultimate low-rider more attitude than one car should be allowed to have. Other vehicles with attitude and charm include rusty tow truck Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who becomes Lightning’s good friend; the perky Porsche, Sally (Bonnie Hunt), a former fast-lane L.A. lawyer who’s resettled in Radiator Springs to get off of the fast lane and, dare I say, try to jumpstart more than Lightning’s alternator? The animators must have had a blast designing the different cars and then getting the stars to voice their creations.

The story is a time-tested one and reminds us that it isn’t the rush to the finish line that is so important, but the journey it takes getting there. Because, once you have rushed to reach that finish line, you become just that: finished! Telling the story in a manner that both adults and kids will enjoy in an animated format makes the message more entertaining and leaves you with a warm feeling. Kind of like a car with a few miles on it offering up some experience with a few stories to boot. OK, maybe not a boot, because that would keep your vehicle from getting out of the “park” mode, now wouldn’t it?

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.

Keepin’ it Reel

Now playing: “Cars”

Starring: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry The Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, Jenifer Lewis, Paul Dooley, Michael Wallis, George Carlin, Katherine Helmond, John Ratzenberger, Joe Ranft, Michael Keaton, Richard Petty, Jeremy Piven, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip, Richard Kind, Edie McClurg, H.A. ‘Humpy’ Wheeler, Tom Magliozzi, Ray Magliozzi, Lynda Petty, Andrew Stanton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jay Leno and Mario Andretti

Directed by: John Lasseter

Rated: G for general audiences

Length: 115 minutes

Howie gives it: 4.5 out of 5 bagels

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