- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

Only the folks at Pixar could take a story ripped from 1991’s “Doc Hollywood” and retool it into another cute/warm/fuzzy/funny romp.

“Cars,” the latest confection from the animation company’s assembly line, follows a speedster forced to live a week in a small town.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) isn’t a bug, fish or furry creature out of water. He’s a car, as are the rest of the characters in the film’s technicolor world.

The wizards behind “Cars” make each creation as flesh and blood as the imagination permits, a task made easier by the vocal talents of Mr. Wilson, Paul Newman and Larry the Cable Guy.

Young, brash Lightning is the racing world’s rising star, but in the biggest race of his young career he comes up in a three-way tie for first. A rematch is in order, but the race is being held a few days’ drive away on the West Coast.

Along the way, Lightning takes a wrong turn off Route 66 and into Radiator Springs, the land the economy forgot.

One extended chase sequence later and half the town’s main street is left in ruins — it’s too convoluted to explain here, but it’s all Lightning’s fault. The local judge orders the city slicker to tar over the broken road as his punishment, but the job will mean he might not make it to the big race on time.

That’s the kind of challenge a hotshot like Lightning lives for, but what he doesn’t expect is how Radiator Springs grows on him.

Dumb but kind Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) is a fast friend. The town elder Doc Hudson (Mr. Newman) may be gruff, but his secret past reveals a softer side. And who knew a small town girl like Sally (Bonnie Hunt) could rev Lightning’s engines like no other?

Suddenly, Lightning isn’t in such a hurry to head back to big city living, and Radiator Springs is showing some signs of life.

The racing sequences that bookend the film are as exhilarating as we’ve come to expect from Pixar. What’s equally stunning are the quieter achievements, like the stubby tread on the cars themselves or how Lightning’s finish changes from polished to muddy and back again.

A few supporting characters amuse without unduly stretching the animators’ minds. Casting George Carlin as a stoner VW Bus is comical but shallow, and a sequence involving tractor tipping quickly wears out its cuteness.

Leave it to rusty ol’ Mater to steal our hearts before the final race begins.

“Cars” runs alarmingly close to the two-hour mark, a rarity in animated features. For all its eye-popping visuals, the film could stand a snip or two. Children, in particular, will be squirming as Lightning slowly realizes the error of his ways.

Perhaps director John Lasseter, a car freak himself, couldn’t bear to let any automotive reference hit the cutting room floor.

“Cars” sets new technical bench marks for animated features without forgetting to deliver an old-fashioned story worth the telling.

***

TITLE: “Cars”

RATING: G (Nothing objectionable)

CREDITS: Directed by John Lasseter. Produced by Darla K. Anderson. Original music by Bruno Coon and Randy Newman.

RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes

WEB SITE: www.disney.go.com/

disneypictures/cars/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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