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KINCHEN AT THE MOVIES: ‘Cars’ Brings Tears to Eyes of Veteran Car Owner Who Realizes He Didn’t Really Own Them After All – They Owned Him

Posted by kinchendavid on July 17, 2006

By David M. Kinchen

Hinton, WV — I hope you’re satisfied, John Lasseter: You’ve ruined the making of any more automotive movies from here on out with “Cars” (Disney-Pixar). But wait: That doesn’t mean YOU can’t make a sequel to a movie that brought tears to the eyes of a reviewer who bought his first car – a 1941 Studebaker – more than 50 years ago and has owned dozens of vehicular pals ever since.
Like “Over the Hedge” that I reviewed a few weeks ago, “Cars” is really about friendship. Rookie NASCAR hotshot Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) discovers what friendship is all about when he accidentally falls out of his transporter on the way to a 3-way race in California with dirty tricks racer Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) and The King (Richard Petty). The writing credits list Lasseter, Robert L. Baird, Dan Fogelman, Dan Gerson, Jorgen Klubien, Philip Loren, Kiel Murray and the late Joe Ranft, who died last year.
Lightning ends up in Radiator Springs, a town on the Mother Road (Route 66) bypassed with the construction of Interstate 40. The town’s patriarch and justice of the peace is Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) and the town’s svelte lawyer is a classy silver Porsche 911 named Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) who falls for Lightning and vice versa.
Lightning is nabbed by a 1950s Mercury sheriff (Michael Wallis) and is sentenced to pulling the asphalt road grading machine, in an echo of Newman’s “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) role, where he worked on a chain gang fixing roads. An eager beaver rusty tow truck named Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) quickly befriends the basically nice Lightning. Their escapades with tractors will bring tears of laughter to everyone and a lot of sympathy for the tractors!
Fans of “Car Talk” on NPR will recognize hosts Ray and Tom Magliozzi as the voices of Dusty and Rusty Rust-Eze, Lightning’s sponsor. Veteran actress Katherine Helmond voices Lizzie, a Model T Ford (“Tin Lizzie”), while Cheech Marin is Ramone, a low-rider Chevy. And so on and so on. I couldn’t find a sour note in any of the voicing and – speaking of notes — the music by Bruno Coon and Randy Newman was perfect.
I wonder how many viewers will catch the naming reference of Fillmore the Volkswagen microbus voiced by George Carlin? I caught it right away, because I’ve been to San Francisco and driven by a particular building west of downtown S.F.
The relationship between Sally and Lightning is beautifully handled as the sports car tells the brash young racer how an upwardly mobile gal like her ends up in a “nowhere” town — and grows to love it. Similarly, Lightning discovers something special about Twin H-Power Doc Hudson – something that’s no surprise to those of us who remember when stock cars were just that, modified production cars rather than space-frame purpose-built racers that bear only a passing resemblance to production automobiles.
Heard only on a phone is Harv (Jeremy Piven), Lightning’s agent. Of course, Piven plays Ari Gold, the agent on the HBO series “Entourage.” There are many similar inside baseball show business references in this family oriented feature by the gold standard of animation. Actual race car drivers Dale Earnhart Jr., Michael Schumacher and Mario Andretti are among the voices, as are Bob Costas and Jay Leno. Adding an international flavor to Radiator Springs are Luigi the tire guy (Tony Shalhoub) and Guido, his tire-changing sidekick (Guido Quaroni).
Box office and DVD predictions are risky, but “Cars” will be a serious blockbuster hit, probably the biggest of the summer. I can’t wait to add the DVD to my collection and there are about 100 million pre-boomers and baby boomers who potentially could do likewise. The movie will stand up for multiple showings by men and women, boys and girls.
OK, did I like “Cars,” you ask? What do you think?!

(Originally published June 10, 2006)


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