Driving Lessons: Cars
Last weekend, my brother graduated from college; the speaker at his graduation was Senator Barak Obama. He spoke on a variety of topics, but his persistent theme was improving our country by rededicating ourselves to the principle of helping and thinking of others instead of simply helping and thinking of ourselves. By some strange coincidence, the film I'd seen a few hours earlier carried the exact same message.
Cars is certainly not Pixar Animation's finest film, but it may be its finest animated film. The film was, of course, preceded by a selection of coming attractions and since Cars is a kids film, the trailers tended skewed young, animated, and anthropomorphic. While Pixar must hate to give the competition a boost by giving them a platform to inject themselves into their target market's consciousness, I'd argue they should demand the work from DreamWorks and Fox and everyone else always introduce their films because nothing makes their beautiful art look better than comparing it to the footage from visual mediocrities like Barnyard.
Even though Cars is about the adventure of a talking automobile, there are moments of such staggering visual beauty, that are so picture postcard photo-real, that you often find yourself questioning whether you are really watching animation at all. Then the car starts talking out of its grill and the illusion is shattered (or, I suppose, the illusion is reestablished), but some of the sunsets in this little cartoon about talking Matchbox racers could break your heart. Watch the way light glints off the hoods of the cars as they move through the space, and the way director John Lasseter utilizes the 3D world of digital animation through the fluid use of his camera in the racing sequences (where he gets so close to the track you can see the chunks of rubber bouncing off the asphalt then soars above the cleverly named Lightyear Blimp).
I want to find something insidious about normalizing our children to the idea of accepting gas guzzling cars as members of societies given our current energy crisis (Lasseter couldn't make one of the cars a hybrid?!?) but Cars is simply too touching to begrudge it for its flaws. And it has more than any of Pixar's film since A Bug's Life: the film is nearly a reel too long, and at least three characters too many. But there are Happy Meal toys to sell I suppose.
One final note; Cars is preceded, like all Pixar films, by an animated short. This one, One Man Band is one of the studio's finest, and perfect captures Pixar's dedication to blend humor and pathos and state of the art animation, all in about four minutes. Be sure to be at the theater on time; it is not to be missed.