One day, you will walk out of a Pixar movie and think: “Well, it wasn’t as good as the last one.” There will come a day when you don’t spend a big chunk of the running time scooping your jaw off the floor, wondering how they can improve the quality of the animation film after film after film. It will happen one day. The law of averages alone makes it inevitable. But it’s not this day, because Cars is a gobsmacking, jaw-dropping, eye-popping delight. (And, judging by the trailer for Ratatouille that accompanies the movie, it won’t be summer 2007, either.)
Cars is John Lassetter’s first time in the director’s chair since Toy Story 2 and, for a while, things didn’t look good. The early trailers looked slick, but how were you supposed to invest emotionally in vehicles? You could hardly tell which one was talking. Then there were the delays. It was due last summer. Then last autumn. Then February. The official line was that Lassetter was so pleased with the film that he wanted to tweak it until it was absolutely perfect. The unofficial line, by implication, was that Pixar were dealing with the animation equivalent of Eyes Wide Shut. But none of that seems important right now because this typically moral tale is an instant classic. The “hero” is Lightning McQueen (voiced by Wilson), a cocky race car who could become the first rookie to take the Piston Cup. The trophy has gone to the wire and, with Lightning and his two closest rivals tied, a special decider is going to take place. As Lightning is travelling cross-country to the big race, a Fast & The Furious-style practical joke leaves him separated from big rig Mack (Ratzenberger). Speeding off-road, Lightning inadvertently destroys the old Route 66 around the backwater town of Radiator Springs, and is sentenced to community service. Which is where the arrogant young buck gradually learns a little humility, of course.
Through his interaction with the good natured inhabitants of Radiator Springs — voiced by the likes of Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman, Cheech Marin and George Carlin — Lightning discovers that there’s more to life than winning at all costs. The big moral could have been a preachy mess but, instead, is deftly handled and ridiculously touching; you may just find yourself welling up over a talking cartoon car. The voice performances are excellent (including Jeremy Clarkson as Lightning’s agent!). The animation is excellent. The story development is excellent. And the post-credits sequence is the best they’ve done yet. You can chalk up yet another success to Pixar.