Have the wheels come off at Pixar? Mawkishness now seems to have replaced energy and invention at the studio that… no hang on, this is the studio that once gave us Toy Story. Let’s not get carried away. But if Pixar have been known for anything it’s their ability to run sentiment and energy on a twin track, the result being a film with heart and drive. The plot of Cars suggests they’ve forgotten how to do this – we’re on the case of a self-centred hotshot racing car (voice: Owen Wilson) who loses his way and gets stuck in Radiator Springs, a small town where the good locals (all of whom are cars) teach him to love others and himself. Then, spiritually refreshed, he goes off and becomes a champ. Because that’s how champs are made, right?
I can’t believe that Pixar set out to make a film with something missing, but bizarrely that’s the theme of Cars too – our champ has lost his soul, he winds up in a town that’s lost its reason for existence (since it was bypassed by Route 66), where he finds a whole bunch of vintage vehicles (old tow truck, old VW Beetle, old Jeep and so on) who are all missing their youth.
Let’s not be too gloomy. The animation in Cars is quite amazing, the racing scenes show how far Pixar have come since they started making little films purely to demo software and there’s a glorious use of colour – reds in particular seem to bounce off the screen. Kids probably won’t care that it’s Paul Newman voicing veteran race car Doc Hudson, and they probably won’t be looking out for John Ratzenberger’s bits (he’s been in all the Pixars to date, I believe) or the tiny cameos by the voices of Michael Schumacher and Mario Andretti. But these little nuggets might keep their parents from checking their watch too often in a film that has the looks, the technique but seems to prefer preaching to storytelling.
© Steve Morrissey 2006