Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 06/12/06 13:54:37

"Pixar hits a speed bump."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

One very generous reviewer wrote that after 45 minutes of Pixar’s new animated film “Cars” he realized that he was bored. I got there quicker.

In fact, the only moment early in the film that made me think it was going to live up to Pixar’s stellar reputation was when rookie race car Lightning McQueen was reluctantly performing his post-race schtick for a live audience. His sponsor is Rust-eze, an anti-rust product, and his two sidekicks for the show are a pair of banged-up jalopies named Rusty and Dusty. As Lightning drives away in disgust at having to be affiliated with these rust buckets, one of heaps shouts out, “Don’t drive like my brother,” and the other responds with “Don’t drive like my brother,” and I realized the voices were being supplied by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the hosts of NPR’s “Car Talk.”

Now that, I thought, is right on target. Oh boy, if the rest of the picture shows that degree of inventiveness . . .

But it doesn’t.

Lightning is being transported to California for a run-off race, the winner to receive the highly valued Piston Cup, when he gets lost and finds himself in the forgotten backwater town of Radiator Springs. Attempting to outrun the police car (voiced by Michael Wallis, author of the book “Route 66: The Mother Road” and possessor of the deepest, richest voice around), Lightning (Owen Wilson, whose voice is pretty thin) tears up the asphalt going into town. Local judge Doc Hudson (Paul Newman, whose voice is getting pretty shaky) sentences the race car to repairing the road.

Radiator Springs is full of stereotypical character types played by actors who could read these lines while sleeping and not rise to REM, led by Bonnie Hunt as Sally, with whom Lightning will fall in love, and Larry the Cable Guy as Mater, with whom Lightning will become friends. Right. You get lost and wind up in a near-ghost town and you become best buds with Larry the Cable Guy. Carrot Top must have been waiting for replacement parts from the manufacturer.

Okay, you expect American animated films to be ball-less and to sell out to the family values crowd, but we’ve been led to believe that Pixar will at least include some adult humor in the package. Not this time. “Cars” is a dreary reminder that friendship, love, humility, and nostalgia will see you through. Please. We know that Disney has to wrap itself around the leg of Family Values like a horny poodle, but now they’ve got Pixar doing it, too.

Lightning displays the life lessons he’s learned when he finally makes it to California for the big race and makes a huge sacrifice. I don’t want to give any plot points away, just in case you’re under five years old and can’t see the finale coming after the 10-minute mark, but what Lightning does is totally unnecessary and arbitrary. I was insulted by it. Enough on that.

For the first time, watching a Pixar release, I felt as if the picture was self-indulgent and bloated. The landscape shots are stunning, but they don’t mean anything. It’s as if director John Lassiter is replying to the question “Why did you put that in the movie?” by saying “I could and so I did.” I hate to think that he wanted to add, “I am Pixar and I can do as I please. You love me and will pay to see whatever I do.”

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of “Finding Nemo” either, the Pixies’ other massive hit, and for many of the same reasons. Too much eye candy and not enough story and character. But I’ve always looked forward to Pixar’s next project. Now, especially since they’ve been purchased by Disney, I’m not so sure. My remnant of anticipation is supplied by “One Man Band,” a short that precedes “Cars.” It has that old Pixar super sauce.

Here's hoping.

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