John Lasseter is my hero. When Toy Story first came out, creating tons of buzz about CG animation, Lasseter was making the publicity rounds talking about the importance of character and story, not how impressive 3-D animation can be. Ever since watching those interviews, a great deal of my perception of what is really important in filmmaking has been shaped by Lasseter: storytelling and holding an audiences attention through the story and the appeal of the characters, not taking advantage of the latest technology to dazzle audiences. Eleven years after Toy Story came out, Lasseter still believes in the importance of character and Cars reaps the rewards of that philosophy, adding another notch to the Pixar belt of success.
Race car Lightning McQueen is used to the fast life. The up and coming Piston Cup champion eats losers for breakfast. On his way to the final championship race, Lightning gets separated from his truck and winds up in the slow little town of Radiator Springs doing community service. Forced to slow down and experience the world around him, Lightning discovers that speed isn’t the only thing that matters and that friends can be found in the most unlikely places.
If the story for Cars sounds a little familiar, that’s because it’s almost impossible to view the movie without thinking of Doc Hollywood. The two stories are nearly identical, with a big city character breaking the law in a small town and performing community service, eventually leading to the character seeing the value of small town life. Cars is not a blatant rip off of the Michael J. Fox film, however. It uses a familiar story, bit it’s the characters that keep things interesting; characters like the country bumpkin tow-truck Mater, possibly Larry the Cable Guy’s best role to date (which is sad to say in a year that featured a movie titled Larry the Cable Guy). Through the characters we truly begin to care about the small town and the fate it has suffered as Route 66 and towns like Radiator Springs were bypassed as highways developed.
With a cast containing names like Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Cheech Marin, George Carlin, Bonnie Hunt, and Paul Newman, it would be easy to write off Cars as stuffing the cast to draw a bigger audience, but there’s not a misused member of the cast. Lasseter sticks to his belief about the strength of characters and gets the best person possible to voice each character, from the grumpy town official (voiced by the legendary Newman) to the hippie-dippy Volkswagen Van (voiced by the perfectly cast George Carlin). The voice actors are not just an example of stunt casting, but truly bring real heart and emotion to the film.
Don’t take all the talk about characters to mean that is the movie’s only strength. As with all things Pixar, the film is visually impressive too. Computer generated landscapes are awe inspiring while details down to the pebbles of rubber flying by the camera in racing sequences bring the world of Cars to life. Pixar continues their unbroken record of making movies that entertain and impress.
I never thought I would get so connected with a bunch of animated vehicles, but Cars shows why Pixar and John Lasseter deserve to be the ones to carry on the Disney torch. Walt’s former company has yet to come up with anything in recent years that touches what Pixar has managed to do. If their philosophy of focusing on the story and the characters over technology and glitter continues, Pixar will continue this winning streak for a long time. I have to believe that, if a bunch of cartoon cars can make me care about them, there isn’t anything Pixar can’t accomplish.
I’m torn on how to fairly judge the DVD release of Cars, which becomes the first Pixar release to have only one disc and a minimum of bonus materials. With a shorter turn-around time from theater to DVD, I can’t help but feel this release was rushed and cheated out of bonus material it should have had. At the same time, the movie is still impressive with an amazing transfer that allows the viewer to enjoy the detail of Cars in their home theater. At least the film transfer wasn’t rushed.
Pixar always pairs its theatrical releases with an animated short and, since Monsters, Inc includes a follow up short to the feature film on the DVD. Both of those are included on this release. “One Man Band” played before Cars in theaters, featuring a dual between two one-man bands competing for a little freckle-faced girl’s gold coin. “Mater and the Ghostlights” is the follow up to Cars. Featuring most of the vocal cast, the short shows Mater scaring the residents of Radiator Springs, who retaliate by telling him the haunting tale of the Ghostlights. Both shorts continue the Pixar tradition of excellence and are fun to watch.
There are a few deleted scenes included. As with most Pixar films, these were scenes that were cut prior to any voice recordings or rendering, so they are presented as animated pencil sketches with temporary voices. Most of the scenes were reincorporated into the film in different ways, so just offer an alternate version of what Lasseter originally planned. The once scene that interested me most was a car graveyard that reminded me of the nightmare sequence Lasseter had planned for Woody to have in Toy Story and is included in that movie’s DVD release as a deleted scene (the idea eventually became something that was used in Toy Story 2). I found it interesting because Lasseter has these dark ideas in almost every movie he creates, but almost always yanks them before serious production starts.
“The Inspiration for Cars” is a brief featurette that allows Lasseter to explain his inspiration for the film and then shows some of the home video footage the Pixar filmmakers took traveling along Route 66 as they researched the film. It’s neat to see the inspiration for Radiator City, Mater, and many of the NASCAR stars and names that were consulted for the film. It’s easy to forget how much research goes into making an animated film like Cars and this is a good, albeit brief, reminder.
The only additional bonus material is the epilogue of Cars presented in full frame instead of a small frame while the end credits roll. It’s not really much of a bonus, but if you like to see the John Ratzenberger joke fill your entire screen, it’s there for you.
Sadly, as invested as Lasseter was in this movie, there is no commentary or additional look behind the scenes. I can only imagine the hours of footage the Pixar crew must have captured during their research, but only fifteen minutes is offered here. While I’m glad to see Disney abandon their typical need to include music videos by up-and-coming Disney stars, the soundtrack for Cars (including Rascal Flatts and Sheryl Crow) is actually one of the better musical selections to come this year, so it’s even disappointing that isn’t included. Even the Cars trailers are absent, making this release feel even more rushed.
I love Cars and typically Pixar DVDs are loaded with more material than I ever have time to watch. This time, though, the DVD feels empty and I have to assume that means a bigger “Special Edition” is probably coming somewhere down the road. I still highly recommend this DVD for the movie alone, but Disney really lets Pixar fans down with this release.