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"Cars": Kachink! Kachink!....Kaching?

I will state right off that bat I do not dislike the new Pixar movie Cars by any measure. It’s a well made, sweet and funny film in the finest tradition of what Pixar has established as their legacy. That is also Cars biggest problem, it’s made by the same studio that made Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles etc. etc. etc. Pixar has set the bar so high for themselves with the superlative efforts of their past that it becomes very difficult to judge each film on its own merits. Suffice it to say, Pixar still has a perfect batting average, but their slugging percentage is down as this swing is more like a triple to the corner than the home runs of their past.

Cars starts out, like all Pixar movies, with a short, this time by the name of One Man Band. Very cute and funny with some wonderful sight gags, like all Pixar shorts, if a bit less odd than some of the previous ones. We’re also treated to a wonderful preview for their Summer 2007 effort, Ratatoullie, which looks quite promising. If I may recommend, see this film in a digital presentation. I was lucky enough to see it that way and it looked absolutely brilliant; eye-poping and sharp enough to dice carrots.

I doubt I have to summarize the plot very much for anyone. Hot shot “I don’t need anyone else” type washes up in a small town after some kind of accident, this one involving a very clever send-up of The Fast and the Furious, and quickly learns that humility and other such small-town values from a group of quirky locals while winning the heart of the local beauty. In this case, the local quirks and beauty all just happen to be cars, Most of the characters play off of the persona’s of the people voicing them. Larry the Cable Guy plays a very hick-like tow truck, Owen Wilson is our hot shot, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman, George Carlin…you get the idea, though Carlin actually plays against type as a really laid back…fan of organic fuel. A number of NASCAR, Indy Car, Formula one and other celebrities show up including Bob Costas and Jay Leno.

The script for the film is extremely clever. Chock a block with references, witticisms and other such bric-a-brac, it’s probably one of their funniest scripts ever. The problems come in that they end up shortchanging the drama for the funny. A lot of the more dramatic moments end up coming off in a very ham fisted manner, especially the unfortunate choice to set up another musical montage to make the drama seem heavier that it is. Everything happens so fast, literally in the space of a few days, that it borders on the unbelievable for the kinds of emotions the characters are supposed to feel. Being that the movie is already almost two hours long it’s not a question of short running time limiting the films emotional reach but more so a lack balance between the racing and the non-racing. The racing makes for some very sweet eye candy, but it doesn’t ratchet the emotional response like I think the creators were aiming for.

Certainly not a failure or a mistake of any type, Cars is more of a really good idea that seems to have gotten a bit lost in itself. It also comes with a whiff of “hey, we can make a heaping TON of money off this idea!”, at least more so that Pixar’s previous works. Be sure to stick around through the ending credits for a wonderful short tour of major Pixar moments done Cars style , complete with the original vocal casts, and a funny epilogue for two of the bit characters from the film. The credits also include a touching tribute to Joe Ranft, a Pixar animator and voice actor who died in a car crash In the summer of 2005.

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