There's an extra coat of hot wax on Pixar's vibrant, NASCAR-influenced comedy about a world populated entirely by cars. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is the slick rookie taking the Piston Cup series by storm when the last race of the season (the film's high-octane opening) ends in a three-way tie. On the way to the tie-breaker race in California, Lightning loses his way off Route 66 in the Southwest desert and is taught to stop and smell the roses by the forgotten citizens of Radiator Springs. It's odd to have such a slim story from the whizzes of Pixar, and the film pales a bit from their other films (though can that be a fair comparison?). Nonetheless, Cars
is another gleaming ride with Pixar founder John Lasseter, who's directing for the first time since Toy Story 2
. There's the usual spectrum of excellent characters teamed with appropriate voice talent, loads of smooth humor for kids and parents alike, knockout visuals, and a colorful array of sidekicks, including a scene-stealing baby blue forklift named Guido. Lightning's plight is changed with the help of former big-city lawyer Sally Carrera (Pixar veteran Bonnie Hunt), the town's patriarch Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), and kooky tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). The Incredibles
was the first Pixar film to break the 100-minute barrier, but had enough story not to suffer; Cars
, at 116 minutes (including some must-see end credit footage), is not as fortunate, plus it never pierces the heart. Trivia fans should have bonanza with the frame-by-frame DVD function; the movie is stuffed with in-jokes, some appearing only for an instant. Ages 5 and up. --Doug Thomas
All-New Exclusive Animated Short: "Mater And The Ghostlight"