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When i went to see this film in the theaters, we were barraged with no fewer than 5 previews of digital animated films to come. Besides the fact that the market is becoming so crowded and that invariably, at some point in time, there will be a backlash against those numerous films, the most interesting aspect of those previews was to see the varying levels of quality and details of the animation. You could clearly see from one trailer to the next the range of technical prowess those films exhibited. There were some stunning images, and some very plain and blocky ones. And then, a few minutes later, Cars (2006) started. In a matter of minutes, you could directly appreciate and understand Pixar's leading position in this rapidly evolving market. The character design, technical prowess and imagery was simply and obviously head and shoulders above the rest.
Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is a young talented hotshot race car with more ego than can be spared. He is cocky, nasty to its entourage, doesn't have a single real friend, but he is so talented. As the rookie of the year, he may be able to do what no other rookie has ever done: win the great race. On his way there though, he gets lost and rampages through the small town of Radiator Springs. Sentenced to community service, he has to fix the road he destroyed before he can go back and join the race. In the few days that go by, he will learn about friendship, wisdom, responsibilities, and do some serious growing up.
As said above, the film is visually stunning. The character designs, quality of the animation and coloring are all flawless. The film is generally brilliantly edited during the action scenes where multiple streams of animation visually shift into one another. It's so fluid and fast it was dizzying at times, in a good way. Technically, the film is obviously brilliant. The voice work is also very engaging with Paul Newman, Larry The Cable Guy and Bonnie Hunt in the other leading roles. However, it doesn't quite match the previous Pixar films in overall quality. I am not sure why or how, but the voices were not as engaging as they could have been.
The main, though slight, problem with the film though is its story, the writing, and the overall pace of the film. The story of the young talented-and-cocky-turned-nice guy is quite tired, and with those characters and the race cars settings, one would think that something different could have been done. Basically, you can see every turn the story will take a mile away. Instead of an exciting ride across the curvy lines of a race track, we are treated to mostly a mundane ride on a straight interstate. This will definitely affect the movie's broader appeal to non kids, something that previous Pixar films managed to do very well. Finally, the film is simply too long, or rather, lacks the punch needed to sustain interest for 2h like previous Pixar films did. Towards the middle, my kids were fidgeting on their seats, and i saw a few parents and kids leave the film before the end. This is not a good sign.
All and all, the film is pure eye candy with simply drop-dead gorgeous animation and designs. Your jaw will drop many times. But gorgeous is not enough, especially over a 2h period. This is a great film that could have been better given Pixar's track record. It's not quite the flop that some people would like it to be as it is still very entertaining overall, but it definitely won't be remembered as a classic like most of the other films.
- Laurent Hasson