posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2006

[Warning, might be some spoilers.] Cars was perfect. The problem is that it was a little too perfect. After seeing the movie on Friday, Meg and I came up with three reasons why Cars missed.

1. Perfection. Some people don?t like Wes Anderson?s movies because of his emphasis on creating set-driven movies instead of plot- or character-driven movies (ditto George Lucas). With Cars, Lasseter has made himself a perfect world of cars ? the petulant young racer, the lawyer Porsche, the Hispanic lowrider, the hick tow truck ? but it?s a world without soul, without surprise. Everything was a little too obvious.

2. Inanimate characters talking. This was the first Pixar movie in which non-human-like or non-animal characters talked. In Toy Story, Buzz, Woody, and even the T. Rex talked, but the TV didn?t, nor did the Etch-a-Sketch. In A Bug?s Life, only the insects talked. In Cars, you?ve got these inanimate objects talking to each other, and while they did a great job making them seem human, I just couldn?t get into the characters; it felt fake and inauthentic.

3. Unlikable main character. For the first half of the movie, Lightning McQueen is a flat-out jerk with zero redeeming qualities. I remember reading an interview with John Lasseter recently where he was talking about one of the first rough cuts they did of Toy Story in which Woody was too sarcastic. After seeing it, they realized this and tempered Woody?s sarcasm with some like-ability, so that the audience would be pulling for him to change his ways, a deep-down good guy that needs to see the light. Lightning didn?t deserve redemption?he was just an asshole.

Cars is a fine movie with a lot to recommend it, but it?s just not up to Pixar?s normal standards. I was disappointed.

Reader comments

NelsJun 12, 2006 at 10:00AM

I’d really enjoy hearing what you thought about 1999’s Toy Story 2, Jason.

TrentJun 12, 2006 at 10:10AM

What did you think of the Ratatouille trailer?

NelsJun 12, 2006 at 10:11AM


KSKIJun 12, 2006 at 10:11AM

Pixar did do a short called Luxo Jnr. which handled inanimate objects as believable characters very well.

DaveJun 12, 2006 at 10:28AM

“he was just an asshole.” - LOL

ChadJun 12, 2006 at 10:30AM

I have to agree with you Jason, although I think I enjoyed it a little more than you did. Maybe because even though it’s not quite the typical Pixar quality, it’s still better than most of the dreck out there and is also one of the better films of the year so far.

But I agree. It was very obvious. And predictable. It’s going to be difficult for them to top The Incredibles IMHO.

But the movie is worth seeing for Guido’s pit stop scene alone. Personally I hope they make a short with his character. I want more Guido!

DeanJun 12, 2006 at 10:31AM

This is the first Pixar movie I have no interest in seeing. I’m not a car fanatic in “real life” so the subject matter doesn’t interest me. (I wouldn’t see it even if the animation looked cool…it doesn’t to me)

I was going to go ahead and take my 7 year old if he wanted to see it, but even he seems uninterested…

Jay BarryJun 12, 2006 at 10:58AM

Just go watch Doc Hollywood for a better version of the same movie - exactly the same movie.

JasonJun 12, 2006 at 10:58AM

For most of the movie, I thought I was watching a loose remake of Doc Hollywood.

TravisJun 12, 2006 at 11:10AM

I think you’re way off… even though I completely agree with your points. I just think that those particular points don’t matter. Sometimes an obvious moral and cliche characters can be pretty alright when it’s replaced by an entire fabricated world (based on reality, yes, but developed in detail) instead of a focus on individual characterization. In Cars the environment is as much a character as any speaking character - moreso that previous Pixar films - and that is what’s special about this film. Cars was wickedly entertaining, laught out loud funny and clever as always.

OverwormJun 12, 2006 at 11:16AM

“he was just an asshole.”

Shouldn’t that have been, “he was just a tailpipe.”

BTW, can’t wait to take my son to see it. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to see it this week. Everytime he sees a trailer for it, he geeks out.

ryan cochranJun 12, 2006 at 11:35AM

I have the reverse opinion… I absolutely loved the movie. In fact, Id go as far as to say it is a top 2 or 3 Pixar flick. I just thought it had everything a fun movie needs as far as characters, environment (some incredible logo work on brands within the movie), etc… Loved the italian tire fellas… Loved the dialog… Loved it all really…

I’ll be buying the DVD.

Brandon PierceJun 12, 2006 at 11:42AM

I enjoyed the movie overall, despite some of its predictability. It’s really difficult to make something as good as or better than the Incredibles. Right now I have mixed feelings about it—I may have to see it again before I can fully form an opinion.

mikeJun 12, 2006 at 11:44AM

Every single Pixar movie has outdone the one before it. And since I’m such a big fan of superheroes, Incredibles, after Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., might have been the best animated movie I’ve ever seen.

But I agree, as great as Cars was (and it is still Pixar, head and shoulders above every thing else animated coming out of America), it didn’t match up. Roger Ebert thinks it was because there was no child character (something every other Pixar movie has had), and a few reviews said it was because there was this beautiful but creepy car-world with no humans in it. For me, I just don’t care near as much about Nascar as I did superheroes, toys, or monsters in the closet.

But before anyone proclaims the death of Pixar, next year there’s Ratatouille— humans return (although there are talking rats), and it’s about great food (which I love, even more than superheroes). Plus, it’s directed by Brad Bird, who did the Incredibles (and The Iron Giant, probably the best non-Pixar animated American movie in years).

ChrisJun 12, 2006 at 11:46AM

I can’t wait to see it - however - I am a bit peeved that they’ve got Michael Schumacher with a line or two. With the hatred for that man at the moment, they’d have been better off with Fernando Alonso doing more than just the Spanish version.

GregJun 12, 2006 at 11:52AM

I was disappointed that a Steve Jobs Mercedes didn’t make it into the movie.

mrJun 12, 2006 at 12:16PM

My daughter and I had the same reaction about Lightning. Even though Woody is a little grating and petulant, you do tend to see his conflict from his point of view. And by that time you’re in his world. With Cars, you are on the outside, feeling pretty critical of Owen Wilson’s character and not really caring how his epiphany comes about.

The other problem: characters had a limited range of body language. There’s only so much you can convey with only wheels and blinking eyes. The most graceful touches of Monsters and the other “classic” Pixars had to do with the way body language communicated character. That dimension was really hampered by the physical nature of the cars themselves.

George.Jun 12, 2006 at 12:25PM

I saw this movie a month and a half ago at Pixar. I wasn’t initially interested in seeing Cars, but if it’s *AT* Pixar…why not? For the most part, I enjoyed the movie. Apart from the predictable story line, and plug and play characters, I thought it was a solid movie for kids. Classic, safe, Disney. And I think Rats will be a return to classic Disney as well, in the vein of “The Great Mouse Detective” or “The Aristocats”…in other words “Rodents in Europe.”

As a side note, at Pixar they had an incredible painting that was probably 12’ tall by 5’ wide of iris studies for all of the different cars. There must have been 100+ individual irises in all colors and patterns. It looked like a Damien Hirst painting. They also had a display case with “research” conducted while driving the Route 66 trip several times. I loved the clear 35mm film canisters full of dirt samples so they could get the reds and oranges just right in the film.

EmilyJun 12, 2006 at 12:29PM

One take on Pixar: they get a common sort of story, like the new guy in town, or redemption as it relates to small town/big town stuff, a growing up story, or whatever, and then they throw darts at a dartboard chart of objects. New guy in town is done in… toys! Small town and redemption is… cars! Growing up is… bugs!

The visuals almost made me cry they were so stunning.

JonJun 12, 2006 at 12:54PM

I enjoyed the movie, and thought they did a good job with showing the transformation of Lightning’s character. While driving home, I even started looking at the cars on the road in a different way.

Plus, the shorts they showed during the credits were AMAZING!!!

KatJun 12, 2006 at 2:11PM

Let me start by saying that I thought Cars was a great movie. I enjoyed it, I thought it was fun, I was entertained. However, having said that, I also feel that it’s the weakest of Pixar’s films. That is not to say that it is a weak film, however.

I suspect that with Cars, Lasseter had a world he wanted to create, but not necessarily a story he wanted to tell.

jkottkeJun 12, 2006 at 3:10PM

I suspect that with Cars, Lasseter had a world he wanted to create, but not necessarily a story he wanted to tell.

Exactly right.

NeilJun 12, 2006 at 3:32PM

I’m with Emily - that’s the main reason Cars doesn’t interest me. I’ll still see it for the eye candy but I fear that Pixar movies are becoming “the one with the fish” / “the one with the bugs” / “the one with the cars” / etc. Pixar’s best movies are the ones where the characters aren’t just anthropomorphised whatevers. I’m already looking forward to Ratatouille more than I ever was about Cars.

I’m also troubled by the dirt samples. Cartoons don’t have to be photorealistic, the dirt can be whatever color they want it to be. Should Bugs Bunny be the exact color of a real rabbit? It doesn’t matter.

DKRJun 12, 2006 at 4:04PM

Spoilers are always fun - especially game spoilers. I agree on all three accounts of the film. Good observations, Jason.

mattJun 12, 2006 at 4:55PM

It’s a kid’s film. One that adults can enjoy for a myriad of reasons (the incredible tree animation, the gorgeous water animation, subtle referential jokes) but seriously a movie for kids. Kids like cars. Kids like and need simple stories about what life is. Remember Mr. Rogers? Did you critique him because his characters and stories were too predictable?

This is the same base as Fred Rogers but with a panache. The icing on the cake is the incredible advances in animation that Pixar makes with every flickr. They are first and foremost storytellers. The animation is a bonus.

I disagree with the first point because of how you state it. It was too perfect? What? That’s not a valid complaint. Yeah it had some stereotypical characters. You want Claude Rains and Peter Lorre or Klaus Kinski? It’s a kid’s film.

The second point is stretching it a bit too. Woody and Buzz are inanimate objects, and so is the piggy bank. Monsters don’t actually exist, so they probably shouldn’t have made that movie at all. Bugs can’t talk and superheroes are make believe. I can’t believe they’re going to make a movie about a talking rat! Come on, it’s a kids’ film.

Ok Lightning was an unlikeable character. Maybe they should have made him more likeable. I just had fun watching a great film. Is this number 1,2,3,4 or 5 in the order of best Pixar films to worst? I dunno. It’s just a kids’ film and a really effing great one at that.

mattJun 12, 2006 at 4:58PM

that’s pretty funny that i typed flickr instead of flick.

Eric N.Jun 12, 2006 at 6:26PM

I tried to fall in love with the movie and the characters… But in the end I liked Luigi + Guido, and the Doc Hudson. And I agree about Lightning McQueen, ass.

Did you see during the credits where they re-animated Pixar movies with the characters redone as Cars?! Hilarious!!!

Gaijin BikerJun 12, 2006 at 8:47PM

IHMO, if you have to say “come on, it’s a kid’s film”, you’re really admitting it’s got serious problems.

DougJun 12, 2006 at 9:45PM


Lasseter’s story took a backseat to the world he was creating.

geophileJun 13, 2006 at 12:11AM

The eyes were all wrong. When I see a car, I see a face, and the headlights are the eyes. In Cars, the eyes were two big irises on a white windshield, with colored lids that would add some expression. But I kept having to remind myself of this; headlights are eyes, dammit, not the windshield.

filmnutJun 13, 2006 at 2:54AM

For anyone interested, Elvis Mitchell did a great interview with Lasseter on “The Treatment” last week. They talked almost exclusively about cars.

bobJun 13, 2006 at 3:11AM

Um, Doc Hollywood anyone????

TrevorJun 13, 2006 at 4:30AM

Headlamps can be eyes, but they haven’t always been. I’d assumed they’d copied the earlier Tex Avery car style where the windshield is/are the eyes.

KevinJun 13, 2006 at 9:49AM

For anyone who thought this was Doc Hollywood, they are wrong. This film is a western. As Emily says: “Small town and redemption is… cars!”
You’ve obviously not seem enough films if Doc H is the only small town-redemption movie you’ve ever seen. A major tenet of the Western genre is redemption and although, Lassetter gets a little lost in the middle, he’s made a classic film borrowing on a long tradition of American Cinema. For anyone who can’t see that — you’ve missed a “really effing great one” (as Matt said). You have also missed out if you didn’t see this with family. At the triumphant moment that solidifies LM’s redemption my 4yo let out a thunderous scream of “Ligntning!” and I have to agree with him.

Steven RasnickJun 13, 2006 at 9:41PM

Personally, I liked it. I thought it was beautiful.

And yes, Guido kicked ass.

BTW, am I the only one who saw the birds from Pixar’s For the Birds on Route 66?

VerdantJun 13, 2006 at 11:42PM

I don’t understand what the fuss was about Finding Nemo. No exciting plot, very few twists. Entertaining for a preschooler perhaps. As for this movie? I concurr with previous posts that suggest Pixar is merely retelling basic stories with more stunning visuals. But then, aren’t all stories based on ancient archetypes?

jbJun 14, 2006 at 4:59PM

Grown men (mostly) talking about a kid’s movie made by a grown man with an obvious car obsession. It’s almost as odd as me reading the comments about it. But absolutely every kid I know says they loved it more than any previous Pixar movie — it is mostly about the gags.

BobbyJun 15, 2006 at 6:59AM

I enjoyed it a lot but the reason was my friends….we had a great time watching it.

Chaz LarsonJun 15, 2006 at 12:49PM

>BTW, am I the only one who saw the birds from Pixar’s For the Birds on Route 66?

I was the only one in my theater. I laughed out loud all by my lonesome, and my kids gave me the stink-eye.

>IHMO, if you have to say “come on, it’s a kid’s film”, you’re really admitting it’s got serious problems.

Oh, come on. You seriously judge movies with no regard for the intended audience? Cars has to be judged alongside and by the same criteria as Fight Club or Dodgeball or Saving Private Ryan or whatever else?

RichJun 18, 2006 at 6:59PM

Doc Hollywood Goes to the Races.
They took a pleasant but mild film and used it for the core.
I was psyched for this for a month.saw it the first morning of it’s release.
Superb technichal effort , but plot was just weak.
like NASCAR it just went in circles. Needed a character transformation and a strong villan to elevate it from the cute. World class cute , but just cute.
The spark in their trailers wasn’t sustained
If there is disappointment, it comes from the fact they were doing a lot of coasting. Pixar has a process that can do better.
Maybe that will get teased out with the merger, with edgier films and simpler films separating out. Bird didn’t need a lot of tech to tell Iron Giant well. But he needed a solid story

Laura GrowJun 21, 2006 at 10:52AM

Hi, I reviewed the movie on my own blog, and I referenced your review there. Check it out.

Alan KleymeyerJun 21, 2006 at 1:48PM

I agree with your analysis. But I have to judge it in context of it being primarily a kids movie. Not one of my favorites but I would give it a thumbs up nonetheless. The animation and scenery was outstanding. Good story. Beginning and end was terrific but it really dragged in the middle and probably lost the kids in the audience until it picked up again.

BelgandJun 23, 2006 at 3:57AM

Sorry, but I didn’t have any interest in seeing this at any point during the lead up to it and after all the reviews I’ve read I still have no interest in watching a rehash of an already crappy movie… except with talking animated cars. Including Larry the Cable Guy is just the final nail in the coffin.

Admittedly I’ve felt that while Pixar does great animation their work has been pretty hit and miss. The Incredibles and Monsters Inc. were both great. Finding Nemo was a bit ho-hum and so was Toy Story. A Bug’s Life was pretty crappy in my opinion and I never bothered to see Toy Story 2.

The more I tihnk about Larry the Cable Guy though I realize that I don’t care for many of their voice actors: Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Albert Brooks… all people I would have been much happier without. At the same time they’ve made some excellent choices: Steve Buscemi, Willem DeFoe, John Goodman, Jason Lee and Dave Foley were all not just actors I like, but who did a great job with the role they were given. Samuel L. Jackson in particular really made Frozone into a fabulous character.

Pixar does great animation, sometimes they get a good story to back it up and other times they come out with kiddie fare that’s better than the other stuff out there, but not worth it if you aren’t, in fact, a child.

The most important thing (well, aside from making movies that I enjoy, of course *wink*) is that after paying to see it, you enjoy it and feel you got your money’s worth.

Sandy BrownJun 29, 2006 at 10:11AM

Bad boy hero gets redeemed. Typical plot point. I didn’t care about it.

The sub plot I cared about is what happens to a very small town that is by-passed by an interstate. Peach Springs and Seligman are two of the many real towns off I-40 in Arizona on the old Route 66.

Meet the Delgadillos of Seligman and they will tell you about the agonies their families faced trying to make mortgage payments after I-40 opened and Rte 66 was all but forgotten. They will tell you about businesses that died agonizing deaths and the about the people that tried (and are continuing that effort) to keep them going. They will tell you about town meetings that were held to come up with ideas on how to save not only their businesses and homes but their town by encouraging people to drive Rte 66. It’s nostalgia. It’s kitsch. It’s Americana at its finest.

Cars is a tip of the hat to these very real people who thank you for shopping in their stores. Rte 66 is well worth the drive and Cars was worth the time for me.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.