RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The studio that brought you Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, has a new movie opening in theaters today. It's called Cars and it follows six hits in a row for Pixar Animation. Los Angeles Times and Morning Edition film critic Kenneth Turan predicts Cars will be number seven.
KENNETH TURAN reporting:
Americans love automobiles and they love cartoons. Put those two together, and you've got the can't-miss Cars. The source of this film's curb appeal, however, is a most pleasant surprise. It's been seven years since Pixar's animation guru John Lasseter directed one of the studio's pictures.
In that time, the trend in the field has been to go the wise guy route. Disney, Fox, DreamWorks, and even Pixar itself have equated computer animation with bulletproof repartee and snappy patter, turning every creature on the planet into a borscht-belt comedian.
(Soundbite of movie "Finding Nemo")
Mr. ALBERT BROOKS (Actor): (As Marlin) So just then the sea cucumber looks over at the mollusk and says, with frogs like these, who needs anemones?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BOB PETERSON (Actor): (As Mr. Ray) RAY: Well, hello Nemo. Who's this?
Mr. ALEXANDER GOULD (Actor): (As Nemo) It's ...
TURAN: Like those films, Cars has its shares of laughs. But Lasseter's latest is powered by more than glibness and speed. It's got warmth, emotion, and goodhearted charm. Though Cars is slow getting started, what pulls us in gradually and keeps us involved is Lasseter's great gift for character. He has an ability to create cars that don't just have personality, but are bright and funny personalities in their own right.
(Soundbite of movie "Cars")
Mr. LARRY THE CABLE GUY (Actor): (As Mater) Morning, sleeping beauty.
Mr. OWEN WILSON (Actor): (As Lightning McQueen) Ah.
Mr. LARRY THE CABLE GUY: I was wondering when you was going to wake up.
Mr. WILSON: Take whatever you want. Just don't hurt me.
LARRY THE CABLE GUY: Hah. You're funny. I like you, already. My name's Mater.
Mr. WILSON: Mater?
LARRY THE CABLE GUY: Yeah, like ta-mater, but without the ta.
TURAN: Cars offers the kind of sensations all of Hollywood once did, and it makes us remember why those films made us care. And like those movies, Cars does it with a plot whose finish line can be seen miles away. It's the story of a hotshot racer named Lightning McQueen, who takes an unexpected detour and learns what's really important in life.
(Soundbite of movie "Cars")
Mr. WILSON: I'm Lightning McQueen.
Mr. TONY SHALHOUB (Actor): (As Luigi) Lightning McQueen?
Mr. WILSON: Yes. Yes.
Mr. SHALHOUB: I must scream it to the world, my excitement from the top of some place very high. Do you know many Ferraris?
Mr. WILSON: No, no, no. They race on the European circuit. I'm in the Piston Cup. What?
Mr. SHALHOUB: Luigi follow only the Ferraris.
TURAN: One of the hidden pleasures of Cars is the gradual realization that our journey as an audience is more like McQueen's than we first want to admit. We too feel we don't have the time or interest for a story like this, but as we downshift our expectation and get into the spirit of the movie, we find it's just the thing we need.
Cars is not only in love with cars, it's also mad about the American West, in general, and the romance of Route 66 in particular. It looks back longingly to the era when the idea was not to make great time, but to have a great time. And it makes us wonder what we gave up to get to where we are today.
MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan is film critic for The Los Angeles Times and for Morning Edition. You can hear an interview with John Lasseter, the director of Cars and other Pixar films at npr.org/movies.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
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