The Soundtrack
Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:

Cars: Lightning McQueen's Fast Tracks

. "Cars"

The reluctance I had to see this movie came from commercials that humanize cars. Talking animals are even worse. To me, this anthropomorphic style of selling is dumb and distateful. But what obliged me to check "Cars" out was the Pixar pedigree. If I had to sit through a mvoie in which cars are characters, let it be from the minds and hearts of the people who gave us "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo."

What director John Lasseter ("Toy Story") and Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull have devised here, is a spirit film--one of those self-discovery makeover formulas that involve the transformation of a hero from wiseguy winner forced by circumstances into a worlf of new values. Mix in the emotional tug of romance, a legendary figure from yesteryear as a role model, an unexpected buddy and a crisis that defines the makeover, and the picture will leave you feeling recharged.

Which is exactly what Lasseter and his team of 5 writers (including himself) have delivered in a superb display of storytelling. The exemplary structure takes us through changes of pace and mood with a rich set of characters who fulfill clearly defined functions in a package that's a model of the form. "Cars" is so well crafted, it wills you into forgetting we're dealing here with talking automobiles. Score another one for team Pixar.

When we pick up the story of racecar "Lightning McQueen" (Owen Wilson) he's the racing world hero who's so good he does it without a pit crew. He's such a hotshot, he doesn't need to depend on anyone, an attitude than many followers of the sport consider a character flaw, like a poorly designed spoiler.

After a harrowing come-from-ahead chase, the race ends in a three-way tie, including Lightning's crude, wise-ass nemesis, and demands a tiebreaker race that's set for the following weekend in California. McQueen loads himself onto his pal Mack's truck for the trek, and argues against stopping for anything, including Mack's zoning out for sleepiness. When a trio of highway hoodlums discover Mack snoozing at the wheel, they mess with him, causing some swerves, the rear door to open, and Lightning to slide down the ramp.

Finding himself out in desert limbo without his ride, McQueen searches for Mack, and follows false lights into some badlands that lead him to the old Route 66 where his frantic driving rips up the asphalt leading into the lone outpost of Radiator Springs. A visitor hasn't been seen here in years. Arrested by the sheriff (Michael Wallis), he's hauled by local yokel Mater, the amiable, buck-toothed tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) into the courtroom where the judge is, at first, inclined to release the lost travelers.

But, enter cute blue Porsche, Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), local attorney at law, offering her services to the hapless visitor. Only instead of springing him, she convinces the judge to sentence Lightning to repair the road before he may be permitted to leave. Lightning is trapped in a community that time and traffic forgot. He's now in the company of Luigi the Italian tire merchant (Tony Shalhoub), Ramone (Cheech Marin), the homie lowrider and, most amazingly, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) who Lightning discovers to be one of his all time racing heroes--a legend who disappeared one day, turning his tailpipe on an illustrious career.

Lightning is about to discover new values in the valves of life from these museum pieces he was desperate to escape from. But, as they all rally around each other, his thinking takes a hairpin turn and he makes decisions that show he's a far better man... er, car, than he ever was before.

What Lasseter and his team prove with all their technical command over the medium is how far 3-d animation can go. It's hard to expect the art brought to a more expressive level or that better storytelling craftsmanship can be put into its service. While the vehicle might be less than overpowering, no one can accuse the pit crew at Pixar of not priming their theme with every ounce of octane in the creative pump.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner
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Doc Hudson and Lightning McQueen
(Voices of Paul Newman and Owen Wilson)
One of them doesn't stand a chance.
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