My opinion right after watching film
My opinion right after watching the film is that it is not as horrible as I recalled when I first saw this film. Do not get it twisted, the film is too slow, especially if the plot was not going to be that full, and it is a bit too long. While the characters nor the plot are the greatest, you cannot deny that there is a lot of heart in this film, and the message about modernism is one that resonated strongly with me.
The idea of this film was grown in 1998, and started production around the time A Bug’s Life was going to be released, with plans that this could potentially be the next release around June of 1999, but it was pushed back in favour of Toy Story 2. This film was to be called The Yellow Car, but the idea for the film as we know it now was developed in 2000, after Lasseter took a country road trip with his family. After he returned, he contacted Route 66 historian Michael Wallis for some ideas, and a few road trips with the Pixar crew and was organized around 2001. The film was supposed to be named Route 66, but they did not want any confusion with the 1960s show.
In regards to the animation, they wanted to make their designs of anthropomorphic cars a bit different from the typical, while keeping some of the realism regarding the designs. The main way that this was done was making the eyes in the windshield, instead of the front lights in every other car film. It was supposed to be released in November of 2005 (the same time Chicken Little was released), but it was pushed back to the summer of 2006, so it took Ratatouille’s spot, and that film was pushed back to the summer of 2007.
This is the last film in the canon to have Joe Ranft’s input and involvement before his death in 2005. He died in a car crash. This film would also be Paul Newman’s last film before his retirement in 2007, and death in 2008. Apparently this was his highest-grossing film, so it is nice that his last work was his most profitable.
I was debating about whether to talk about this subject in this review, or Ratatouille’s, but I will do it here, since I have to cover 2005 and 2006 anyways. We have spoken about the initial 3-film agreement that Pixar had with Disney (Toy, Bugs, and Monsters), which was soon changed to 6 (adding Nemo, Incredibles, and this film) which would expire in roughly 10 years. Because of this, there were negotiations that were made for a new contract, which involved Pixar receiving $100% of the profits, only giving Disney distribution pay. Things would get worse because Steve Jobs and Michael Eisner’s disagreements were getting extremely volatile before Eisner’s boot in 2005. Jobs then announced that instead of releasing their films in the fall (which all but Nemo has fell under), they will release their films in the summer, so they can get the DVDs out in the fall, and Cars was the first film to be released in the summer. The film was also delayed to see how negotiations with the two companies will go, but things were ultimately settled when Disney bought out Pixar in an all-stock deal on May 5th, 2006, right before the film’s release. There is more to this story, but we will get into it in the next review.
The film starts with a race, and not just any race, but the final race for the Piston cup involving soon-to-be retiree Strip Weather (Richard Petty), greedy and bitter runner-up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton), and the rookie Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who wants to be the first rookie to win the Piston cup. This race ends up being a three-way tie, and a redo-round will take place in California. In the post-race interviews, he claimed that he was a one-man show, how he did not need anyone, and all he cared about was the attention. This caught his pit crew to quit on him because of his poor treatment towards them. He is told by Weather that he cannot win the race and be a successful racer without a good team and support system behind him, but he sees this in the form of an endorsement deal from Dinoco.
After doing a press meeting with his old endorsement deal with Rust-eze, which he hates because a bunch of rusty cards endorse it. He is on his way to California, and after speaking to his boss, Lightning realizes that he has no friends. His semi-track truck named Mack (Joe Ratzenberger) falls asleep while driving, which causes a sleeping Lightning to fall out his trunk, and end up waking up in the middle of traffic.
Lightning was taken to trial in the next morning, but before that, he is introduced to Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). While in trial, he meets his lawyer Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and the judge Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), and he was given the punishment of fixing the road. This makes him angered, since he just wants to go to California, though does not mind sticking around a bit, since he enjoys flirting with Sally. He tried to escape, but Doc and Sally are onto him by sabotaging his gas, and when he does the road, everyone sees that he rushed it to the point that the road is even lumpier and more uneven than it was with the addition of the new concrete. They call him out for making the road worse, and it is his job to fix it to the state it was beforehand.
Doc tells him that the two will go on a race, and if he beats McQueen, the latter will fix the road, but if McQueen beats him, he can leave. Aware of the huge ramp that is around the corner, he knows Lightning will lose, and fall when trying to turn. While he is starting to work on the road, he interacts with more people from the town, and there is way too many to take note of. Sally offers for him to stay with her in a hotel, and the ice between them starts to melt, while him and Mator prank some truck-cows……… I am kind of confused with them, but it does not really matter.
Lightning disses old, rusty cars, but excludes Mator because he is starting to like him. Mator calls him his best friend, which makes him feel good, but is interrupted by Sally, who tells him to not bullshit Mator, because he is a good person. In the next morning, Lightning went into Doc Hudson’s house, and saw that he was a three-time Piston cup champion, with the name of the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet”. The two get into an argument about the business and people like Lightning, who rushes to tell everyone about it, but no one believes him. Sally takes him on the drive, and shows him an area of Radiator Springs that was even more secluded, and she tells him about her life in California, which was not a happy one, so she drove to Radiator Springs, and they embraced her.
He soon overseas Doc Hudson drive around the race in perfect fashion. Remember the argument with the two I mentioned above, it happened around this time. Doc shows him the paper of how the crash of 1954 ended his career, and the industry abandoned him after he was repaired. It explains why he is so bitter against Lightning McQueen, and I find this a very fitting and touching role to end Paul Newman’s legendary career. Doc tells Lightning to finish the road and leave immediately because the community does not deserve to be let down by someone so selfish. The road is finished, and the press follow Mack to Radiator Springs to take Lightning McQueen back. He is more sad to leave than he expected to, and we soon find out that Doc Hudson called the press to take him out of there, which Sally overheard, who is not thrilled with the news.
He is back at the race, and is not focused at all, since he keeps on thinking about Radiator Springs. This causes him to perform last through the first majority of the race, but picks it up when Doc Hudson, Mator, and a few of the others go to California to be his pit crew. Hicks pulls his tricks to beat Lightning and Weather, which cause shim to get first, but he loses the respect of everyone, and the Dinoco endorsement. I get the moral for Lightning going back to Weather after the crash, and to push him to the finish line (causing McQueen to be third), but wouldn’t there be penalties and stuff that prevent Hicks from being first place? The press take note that Doc Hudson is Hudson Hornet, and everyone cheers for him. McQueen rejects the endorsement deal, and announces that he is returning to Radiator Springs to set up his headquarters there, which will help traffic with Radiator Springs. The film ends with Lightning and Sally going on a race, while Mator gets flown by the Danico plane.
The characters in general work better as an ensemble, instead of individual characters. There is not much depth in the characters, and if there is not a lot there, it is harder to invest in the happenings of the film. What I will say is that the big theme of this film is community, and they establish the characters well in that sense.
There were a lot of reflections through the mirrors, windows, and all of the cars that needed to be made for the film, and I feel like they handled it well. The animation has not aged, and I admit that the designs were creative for cars. In regards to the setting and atmosphere, they really did a brilliant job, whether we were in a packed, high-paced race, or an old, retro town. Capturing motion well needed to be a necessity that they did well, since the film is about racing, and I felt like they did that well.
The music was handled by Randy Newman again, and I have to say that he did not disappoint. The music can go from the typical race music, to the more somber, retro, and even country music if needed, and each genre resonated well with whatever mood is taking place. Very strong score to go behind the film, though the songs might not be what you remember from the film.
Reception at Release
When the film was released on June 9th, 2006, it made $244 million domestically, and $218 million in other territories, leading to an international gross of $462.2 million dollars. While it was the third lowest grossing film out of the Pixar released at the time (only Toy Story and A Bug’s Life making less), the merchandise for this film EASILY made this film the most profitable, even more profitable than the Toy Story merchandise a decade earlier. If you were alive in the mid 2000s, you saw Lightning McQueen’s and Mater’s EVERYWHERE. When I was at school, half of the kids had backpacks, lunchboxes, and clothes consisting of the film. The merchandise is one of the best selling still, right behind the Disney Princess lineup; making over $10 billion by 2011. I can only imagine how much they made now.
Regarding the critical reception, there was some mixed reception. A lot of the critics spoke positively about the film, liking the setting, fun atmosphere, characters, and the amount of heart in the film, but most of the reviews also said that it was not as strong as the other Pixar films. Some said that it was the weakest because the story was not that strong. I even remember some people and kids not liking it as much as the other kids when I was young, but most of them still liked the merchandise.
Despite the comparisons to other Pixar material, it did well in the awards season, though it did lose the Oscar for Best Animated Film to Happy Feet, though it did win that award in the Annies. Cars of course won and was nominated for a bunch of other awards. Since I have compared the reception of the Pixar film in discussion to its contemporaries of the time, I have to do it for this year. Chicken Little was released in late 2005, and was easily WDAS’s worst output thus far, and took the well-needed break for 2006. Madagascar was released a year earlier, and while it made a lot of money, it was not the biggest critical success. DreamWorks was also having a fallout with Aardman Animations, which showed in their last two films together Wallace & Gromit, and Flushed Away. Over the Hedge was released in 2006, and came and went with little to no impression. The first Ice Age sequel was released with a strong box office run, but a lackluster critical run, so it is not shock that Cars was one of the most impressive films of the year.
It is no shock that Cars got a sequel in 2011, which was the first real critical bomb the studio has had. Despite that, there is another sequel that is coming out early next year, which many people are nervous about. The merchandise is still a huge success, and the franchise has a huge presence in the theme parks. Countless shorts and specials came out throughout the last decade, and I am sure there will be a lot more. Regarding the reception of this film today, it is not seen as the worst film anymore (we will get into that with some of the more recent releases), but a lot of people’s opinion on the sequel kind of tainted the reception of this film a bit.
= 29/40 = 73%