Welcome to “Back-Filling,” a regular feature in which I see movies that, by any reasonable measure, I totally should have seen by now.
I'm planning to see Up in the next day or two, and realized that I still hadn't gotten around to watching Pixar's 2006 effort, Cars. This one just kind of slid by me at the time (it was a busy summer, as we were getting ready to uproot from the Midwest and move to NYC); shortly after buying my Blu-ray player, I'd heard that this was a demo-quality disc, so I grabbed it and put it on the shelf. This afternoon, I pulled it off that shelf and gave it a spin.
In all frankness, it's a bit of a disappointment, certainly in comparison with the Pixar pictures that preceded and followed it. It sounds great and looks amazing, but it’s a little short on charm (again, comparatively speaking). Pixar is apparently not so good at the redemption tales; for the first and (so far) only time, we have a main character who is genuinely unlikable, but the movie doesn’t really find its soul until he does, around the 80-minute mark.
There’s good stuff along the way—like the gentle, evocative Route 66 sequence and the wonderful voice work by Paul Newman and George Carlin, both making their final film appearances. On the other hand, Cars has more Larry the Cable Guy than any movie has any right to, and he even trots out his tiresome catchphrases, surely to break up all the NASCAR dads in the crowd. Cars is a harmless enough movie, but it’s Pixar’s only picture so far that doesn’t transcend its roots; it’s no better than your average family movie.