This is definitely the best work that Pixar has done in the animation department. Now going on eleven years after Toy Story and the studio's digital handiwork has improved markedly (if it needed any at all). From the detail done to the cars to the blur of motion as they race down the track, amid a dizzying amount of beautiful scenery, Cars is a movie with an admittedly silly premise but good lord, it all looks so real! You know how some Pixar movies like Toy Story and The Incredibles has that "Toon-Town" look, that's very good animated but "obviously" animated? That's barely there in Cars at all, folks. And it doesn't look any better than when the action is going fast in this movie.
But what I really appreciate about Cars is the vocal talent, and it indicated to me that the Pixar crew has not only a great sense of casting, but respect as well. Owen Wilson is Lightning McQueen, the main car-acter. He's a hotshot rookiee racer gunning for the Piston Cup. And the first indication that this movie has real class came toward the end of the first race, when McQueen is in a three-way tie with two other cars: Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) and a car painted a certain shade of blue with the number "43" on its sides, the car known as The King. And sure enough, The King is voiced by racing legend Richard Petty (that's Petty's wife Lynda doing the voice of Mrs. The King). Listen also for the voices of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Darrell Waltrip and Mario Andretti, among many others. The core cast is rounded out by tow-truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt), Ramone (Cheech Marin), and what I thought was the grandest touch of all: Paul Newman playing Doc Hudson. Which if you know anything at all about Newman and his passion for racing you'll understand how appropriate this is.
Cars is a wonderful homage not only to the American culture of the car and racing, but also to the days gone by when driving wasn't so much about getting from here to there as fast as you can, but also about enjoying the ride along the way. This movie could have been titled Route 66 (which was its working title at one point) because this movie is very much a loving tribute to that legendary highway. Indeed, after the movie while we were driving around Greensboro it was enough to make me almost sneer in derision at the mighty I-40 that we drove over, which cuts a swath far into the west through Lord knows how much spectacular scenery with not a thought about any of it. Who knows what wonders are waiting to be re-discovered out there, somewhere along Route 66?
This is the second CGI-animated feature that I've seen in the past few weeks (the first being Over The Hedge), and they've both exceeded my expectations. Cars is definitely worth a drive down to the local cinema. By the way, stick around after the movie: there's one last scene tacked on after the end credits that's pretty funny (not to mention all the extra stuff the Pixar crew peppered the credits with).