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Sunday, July 8, 2012

CARS (2006)

After two decades of nothing but critical & commercial kudos, you can’t miss the defensive tone, and hurt, from PIXAR honcho John Lasseter on the Backstory Extra of this DVD. It helps explain why he pushed ahead to even less purpose with CARS 2, he needed to prove the naysayers wrong. No doubt losing voice-actors Paul Newman, George Carlin & his long-time Pixar partner Joe Ranft added to his irrational attachment, but the whole concept feels deeply misconceived. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the set-up, cocky race car learns to be a team player after being stranded in a little town the highway passed by, but it’s needs all the visual pizzazz & hokey character comedy PIXAR can muster to avoid a STIX NIX HICKS PIXAR PIX reception. Even so, good as the racing scenes are, the SouthWest terrain looks like penny-postcard stuff next to the imaginative work recently seen in RANGO/’11. A rare case of PIXAR being bested. But the real problem is the cars. (Well, that and the non-starter romance between leads Owen Wilson and Bonnie Hunt.) The big concept of the pic makes the cars the actual personalities. Not that the cars have their own personalities which play off their drivers, but that they exist in and of themselves. In fact, everyone in the pic is a car. (Except, for some odd reason, planes & helicopters. Too bad, a flying car might have made a nice gag.) But we personify action figures toys, not the accessories. Kids would imagine they were driving the car . . . or tank or tow-truck or whatever, not that they were the machine itself. Presumably, Lasseter (working from what’s generously called his original story) didn’t want to remake THE LOVE BUG/’68, but what he’s come up with doesn’t connect with our anthropomorphic fabulist hardwiring. And it leaves him stuck perfecting marvelous, impeccable details that don’t add up to much more than a skeletal framework waiting to be populated. Like the little town of Radiator Springs in the film.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Included on the disc is ONE MAN BAND/’05, one of those typically fine PIXAR shorts they produce every year as both training pics and Short Subject Oscar® fodder. And why not try Hayao Miyazaki’s masterful PORCO ROSSO/’92 to restore your faith in the form.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Three cheers for the PIXAR designer who thought of giving George Carlin’s Hippie Van character a ‘jazz lick’ made from a perfectly placed license plate.

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