Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, Pixar Animation Studios—recently acquired by Walt Disney Pictures—has earned a reputation that has not only made them pioneers in computer animation, but also equated their name with excellence in entertainment. After a long string of Oscar-winning short films, Pixar kept hitting home runs with Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), and The Incredibles (2004).
With that resume, it would seem that Pixar can do no wrong, and their seventh feature is destined to become another hit at the box office. Still, Cars could well be Pixar's least satisfying project to date.
Not that all audiences will be disappointed. Families with young boys enchanted by cars will find a lot to love in this animated world completely populated with automobiles instead of humans. And as such, the athletes are represented by racecars like Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), a rookie hotshot so cocky that he thinks he doesn't need a crew chief or pit team. Self-driven by success and self-absorbed with celebrity, he earns a place as a finalist in the championship race for the Piston Cup, competing against The King (legendary racer Richard Petty) and the even more ruthless Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton).
But en route to the big race, McQueen gets separated from his transport through a series of improbable (and rather convoluted) circumstances. His late-night panic attack to get back on track crashes him in the sleepy Southwestern town of Radiator Springs off of historic Route 66, where he accidentally causes much damage to public property. Gruff town judge Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) sentences McQueen to community service—to repave ...