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At The Movies: Take the Highway That’s the Best:

Cars ****

Sasha Stone

Mirror Film Critic

There is a true sweetness to Cars that’s hard to shake. The Disney/Pixar animated feature does what Pixar does best: celebrate the all but forgotten. With a lot more hits than misses, Pixar rules the animated kingdom. Most animated films come close but few have the same combination of dazzling effects and heart.

Somewhere in between Toy Story (which rivals Finding Nemo for best Pixar movie ever) and Monsters, Inc. is Cars. Like the discarded toys, the unemployed superheroes, the fish stuck in a dentist office fish tank, Cars is another example of Pixar’s insight into the blurred worlds we pass by every day.

Cars tells the story of a smoking hot race car called Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), who is about to become the first rookie to win the coveted Piston Cup when he is accidentally dropped off in the middle of nowhere and left to fend for himself. Like Buzz Lightyear and the Incredibles, Lightning has no business tooling around in the desert, yet that’s where he’ll eventually find himself with the help of a tiny community of forgotten old cars who live in a town called Radiator Springs, which has become almost a ghost town since Interstate 40 blew out Route 66.

In Radiator Springs, Lightning finds his first and only best friend (a lispy, buck-toothed hick named Mater (a tow truck called tow-mater), voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. He also finds love in a slinky Porsche named Sally (the reliable Bonnie Hunt) and he finds a recluse racing hero from a long time ago, Doc, doing double duty as the Hudson Hornet (voiced by Paul Newman).

In typical Pixar fashion, the magic is in the ordinary. You could look twice at your cowboy doll and never guess that a world comes to life when you’re not around. You could drive from Los Angeles to Flagstaff and never guess at what kind of world exists when the modern world turned its back.

No one is going to get cool points for liking Cars. And in fact, many would probably like to see it flop considering it’s the final installment of an agreement by Pixar with Disney to make five feature films. Now that Disney owns Pixar outright no one will root for the little company that could. If you’re not in touch with your inner sap you’ll have a hard time not tearing up at key moments. But if you are confident enough in yourself to allow tears for animated creatures, chances are you’ll be overcome by this touching, simple tale.

Like Route 66 itself, the cars and trucks in Radiator Springs retain their historical loveliness; they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Route 66, which can still be glimpsed from Interstate 40 if you’re looking for it, is described in the film as a road that is made for taking your time instead of a road to make time; it bends and molds to the land around it rather than cutting a straight line right through it. And the cars that still exist there have remembered their uniqueness in a world where every car practically looks the same.

You can always count on a good Pixar film to send a moving message out to the little ones and Cars has a doozy waiting at the end. Just as in Nemo or Toy Story, there isn’t a character big or small you don’t root for. When the dream of a lifetime is something as simple as riding in a helicopter or seeing your whole town lit up for the first time you see that the best dreams are the attainable ones, not the ones that require magic to make them come true. There is magic all around us – some of it has been abandoned and forgotten, some of it remembered. It is only a matter of turning around and taking a good look.

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