Cars, the latest vehicle to roll off a Pixar assembly line that has thus far yielded nothing but spit-shined classics, answers that age-old question: What would Doc Hollywood have been like had it been populated entirely by, ya know, cars?
If the promise of that particular premise—in which a hotshot (in this case, a hot rod) gets stranded in a small town on his way to Los Angeles and finds love among the ruins of what used to be paradise—doesn’t exactly rev your engine, fret not. Cars takes a little longer than most Pixar pics to get from zero to 60, and it does so in fits and starts and not without a little backfiring, but it eventually gets you where you want to go—the promised land of impulse-purchase trinkets and happy endings.
From this vantage point, it’s hard to embrace a movie that casts yee-har-dee-harrin’ Larry the Cable Guy as a redneck tow truck one stiff breeze away from falling apart at the rusty seams; pandering, I think they call it. Yet it’s also director John Lasseter’s most elegiac offering, an ode to the bygone days of dusty roads winding through small towns in which nothing ever happens except the crawling of time. That probably explains the turgid pace, with all the traction of a boxcar going uphill in molasses. The movie begs its audience to slow down and appreciate the roadside attractions passed at light speed from the freeway. Even the music, by Pixar stalwart Randy Newman, sounds like a 45 played at 42 rpm. Ironic that a movie about a race car named Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson, who sounds as though he’s never in a hurry to get anywhere) would wind up the least frenetic of Pixar’s offerings; compared to this, Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life positively vibrate.
Yet what ultimately redeems Cars from turning out a total lemon is its soul. Lasseter loves these animated inanimate objects as though they were kin, and it shows in every beautifully rendered frame. And so the movie slowly grows on you, its familiarity be damned. It’s just, well, a disappointment following the grown-up comic book that was The Incredibles, which (barely) concealed its emotions and maturity and profundity in superhero spandex. But do stay for the ending, which tricks up scenes from Pixar’s previous outings and makes you miss them even more.