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Get Your Kicks... with Cars

My wife and I decided to take my parents to the movies the other afternoon. I have to admit, after quite a drought of truly good movies, it's nice to have to make a choice between legitimately good movies to see at the cinema. We decided to go to a movie that me and my wife had already seen, Disney/Pixar's Cars.

Now, if you are a NASCAR fan, I can almost guarentee that you will find something to like about this movie. Heck, it's a movie about race cars, for Pete's sake. But it is more than that, thankfully for the rest of us. It's about realizing that it is OK to not always go it alone. It's also about reliving the past, and realizing that not all change is always for the best. Just because it's faster, doesn't necessarily make it better.

We enter the world of Cars, a world populated not by humans, but by the vehicles that they drive. This isn't Herbie, though. These are fully anthropomorphized vehicles, with eyes for windsheilds and mouths where their grills oughta be. They still have all four wheels on the ground, though. No stairs in this world.

Of course, one of the greatest past-times in the world of Cars is racing. And the greatest achievment in racing, in the US at least, is the Piston Cup. Many dream, some strive, and few win. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is one of these many. He's a rookie on the Piston Cup circuit, but he's been tearing up the track ever since the first race of the season. And he looks to be the favorite to win the coveted cup. All that stands in his way is the reigning champ, The King (voiced by racing legend Richard Petty), and Chick Hicks (voiced by Michael Keaton), a racer that has been dubbed the "runner up" by the media.

In a race that is as exciting as any one you'll see in the real NASCAR world, we find the three leaders fighting for control of first. We soon realize that Lightning, having fired his crew chief, may have a bit of an ego problem. After taking a comfortable lead by avoiding a massive pileup caused by some shady driving by Chick Hicks, Lightning's confidence is riding sky-high. He refuses to take new tires in the pits in order to save time. What happens next we see coming all the way from turn one. Just as Lightning is about to round the last turn, he loses both rear tires in a blowout, and finds himself trying to ride his rims to the finish line, with both The King and Hicks closing quick. In a photo finish, the officials call it a three-way tie, and announce that there will be a tie-breaker race out west in California in a week's time.

Lightning, who has been sponsored by a company called Rust-eze, dreams of taking The King's place as the spokes-car for Dinoco, a petrol mega-corporation. As he begins the ride to California with his trusty semi Mack (voiced by Pixar-regular John Ratzenberger), his agent calls and tells him that the first to get to California will have the chance to schmooze with the Dinoco reps, and maybe score a spot on the Dinoco team. Excited by the prospect, Lightning convinces Mack to drive through the night to make it to California first. But, like any long-haul driver, Mack is getting sleepy. After getting bounced around by some tricked-out street racers, Mack loses a sleeping Lightning out the back of the truck and continues on to California unawares.

Lightning awakes with a start as he sees car and semi headlights heading toward him. He quickly takes in the situation and gets himself out of trouble. He then rushes ahead to try and catch up with Mack. After following a Peterbuilt off the Interstate by mistake, he finds himself traveling down old Route 66, not realizing that it doesn't lead back to the Interstate. As he zooms towards a small town called Radiator Springs, the local sheriff clocks him and gives chase. In a comical turn, Lightning finds himself tied up to one of the powerlines, after destroying the road running through town.

The next morning, Lighting finds himself in the impound, wheel boot keeping him at bay. The local tow truck, Mater (voiced humorously by Larry the Cable Guy) makes quick friends with Lightning, and tows him to the courthouse to go in front of the local magistrate, Doc Hudson (voiced by actor/driver Paul Newman). Doc, seeing that he's a race car, wants to send him on his way never to return, but the local lawyer, Sally Carrera (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) thinks that the town would be better served if the racer worked to repair the road. Begrudgingly, Doc agrees, and Lightning is sentenced to repair the road. Once he is finished, he is free to go on his way.

It doesn't take long for the romance between Lightning and Sally to be set into place. This drives Lightning's progression from a self-centered egomaniac to someone who cares for the people who care for him. He helps to give the run-down town and it's inhabitants some fun and a nostalgic look back at Radiator Springs of old. But, when the world finally catches up with Lighting, will he turn his back on Radiator Springs, and on Sally? If you don't know the answer to this, then you haven't seen many of these movies.

But, knowing the outcome of the movie is like knowing your destination. It's not where you are going that counts, it's what you get to experience on the journey that makes all the difference. The design and animation of Cars is absolutely top-notch, and I expect nothing less from Pixar. They continue to improve the technology, and it really shows. The race scenes at the beginning and end of the movie are spot on, and feel just like watching a NASCAR race on the telly. The sound design here is important, and they deliver in spades. Engine sounds were, in most cases, sampled from the real-life cars the characters were modeled after, so Doc Hudson's diesel V8 sounds just like you'd imagine it'd sound, as does Lightning McQueen's powerhouse.

There are so many cameo appearances in this movie. It's fun to try and pick them all out. From the actual race drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mario Andretti to others like Tom and Ray Magliozzi, whom many know from their NPR radio show Car Talk. We even get Bob Costas and Darrel Waltrip as the race announcers. For the best of the cameos, though, make sure to stay through the credits. Pixar fans will get a real kick out of it.

Although the underlying theme is something that we have seen many times before in movies, Pixar manages to bring something new and fresh to it. I truly think that Cars is one of the best movies of the year, and a contender for a couple of Oscar nods. Teamed with a killer soundtrack featuring Rascal Flats, Brad Paisley, Cheryl Crow and others, this movie is a joy the watch and listen to. Race down to the theatre and check it out now!

Posted on July 9, 2006 at 9:20 am
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Colin McRae 2005
Get Your Kicks... with Cars 7/9/2006
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit 10/31/2005
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