If you've been waiting to find a kid to watch Cars with"”as a form of protective coloration"”wait no longer. You don't have to have a kid, be one, or be a NASCAR fan to enjoy this latest offering from Pixar, available this week on video and DVD. You do have to be ready to pay close attention, however: the jokes"”visual and audible"”come so thick and fast that you're going to miss as many as you get. (Example: the "bugs" on the cars' windshields are VW's.) In fact, watching the movie in a reversible format might help you keep up with the wit and imagination of the filmmakers.

As the title promises, this is a film totally about and featuring"”cars. Humans need not apply, except as the voices for the machines. As the star, Lightning McQueen, Owen Wilson does a fetching job of turning the egomaniacal rookie racer into a likeable little cuss. But there are bigger names, notably that of Paul Newman (a sometime racer himself) as '51 Hudson Hornet hiding from the world after his own racing career was prematurely ended. As Lightning's rivals, Chick Hicks and The King are voiced by Michael Keaton and Richard Petty, in what I presume is his film debut. The scene stealer, though, is Larry the Cable Guy, playing Mater, a tow truck (towmater, get it? Hyuck, hyuck) an earnestly goofy hick who becomes Lighting's buddy once the speedster finds himself stranded in Radiator Springs, a desert crossroads on legendary Rte. 66.

The little place has been bypassed and has gone to seed. Headed for a big showdown race in L.A., Lightning breaks a bunch of laws and has to do community service. When he falls in love with Sally (Bonnie Hunt), a slick little Porsche lawyer who also runs the town motel, the only question is whether he'll be sucked in by the bright lights of LaLaLand or stick with a town where the big excitement is timing the flashing caution light.

But the plot is not the main appeal here. The film's creators reputedly averaged seventeen hours per frame producing it, and the care and painstaking attention show. Where the classic Disney cartoons depicted rivers and fields as washes of blue and green, the Pixar wizards (now Disney employees) give us roadsides where we can make out individual plants and waterfalls that look like, well, water falling. Director Dan Lassiter and six screenwriters keep the humor high, the schmaltz down to an acceptable level. There are plenty of running jokes (sorry) involving Mater and the other Town Characters, among them a hippy-dippy VW bus named Fillmore, voiced by (who else?) George Carlin. Randy Newman's soundtrack is a nostalgia trip in itself.

Cars is that rarest of birds, a genuinely "G"-rated movie that adults and kids of almost any age can enjoy. (It was the first movie of a very young acquaintance of mine; I had to tell him that not everything was going to be this good).


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