Length: 116 min.
Age: 5 + Commonsense Media sez: 5 +
Scary Factor: Mack is nudged by bad cars on the highway at top speeds, Lightning rolls out of his trailer onto the highway and is very nearly hit; soon after he races a train and again comes very very close to being hit; in tractor-tipping scene at night he is briefly chased by a very big and scary combine; same combine reappears in a nightmare and crunches up a car
Violence: nothing significant, save for ‘bad guy’ nudging competitors off the race track
Also: first big race quite stressful, with cars crashing and flying all over (though none are seen to be hurt too seriously)
Language: a fair amount… “hell”, “moron”, “idiot”, “holy shoot”, “Lord”, and I’m even positive I heard a reference to “the little bugger” from the old dame (though none of the other websites I’ve checked mention this); plus a lot of sly double entendres, ie. Lightning talks about the ‘Piston Cup’ to the inevitable response “He did WHAT in his cup!?”
Consumerism: film contains a bewildering array of product placement, and triggered an avalanche of merchandise
Interests: cars, car races, sports
Next: Cars 2
Famous, spoiled hotshot racecar Lightning McQueen is accidentally stranded in a small town in the middle of nowhere. He learns how to care for other people and be a true friend before returning to the big time for a championship race.
Surprisingly more of a niche film than most other Pixar films. It’s a cinch that anyone who loves cars will love this film, but it may be a little harder for other kids to get into it. The opening is the problem: shot exactly like an ESPN race, the entire first section is a loud, confusing blur unless you are accustomed to watching television sports. It’s all multiple screens, ads, sponsors, jumbotron, flashbulbs, pitstops, and noise. It’s fairly easy to ‘get’ that McQueen is the car you’re supposed to cheer for, but the plot points about him being vain, snobbish and unpleasant are buried in the confusion. (For young kids, I mean. Older kids should be able to follow it all.) First McQueen fires his pit crew boss, saying he’s a one-man show, then he talks about getting a bigger sponsor, eager to dump his embarrassingly small-time sponsor Rust-Eeze. These plot points are supposed to display McQueen’s egotistical personality, but if you need to have the whole concept of pit crews and sponsors explained to you first, well, it’s not the clean and elegant exposition it could be.
Once McQueen gets to Radiator Springs, thankfully, everything slows down and quiets down enough to hear everything and understand the characters. But if you haven’t noted McQueen’s antisocial tendencies earlier, his annoying behaviour here just seems confusing.
The film is worthy in its attempt to do many things. Themes and issues include: vanity and egotism, the toll of fame, the allure of the fast life, the virtue of slower, country living, the economic plight of small towns bypassed by the interstate, the value of beautiful scenery, what being a true friend means, how important it is to accept help and work as part of a team, not judging people by their appearance, not being ‘ageist’, not being too competitive, good sportmanship, and just plain being nice to others… It is to the credit of the gang at Pixar that the movie doesn’t sink under all these ‘lessons’. Instead the story zips along like a well-oiled sportscar; the feeling of speed is as much a result of the sharp, funny dialogue as by the hyperactive characters and camera moves.
There is a lot to recommend this movie to action-loving kids. Lots of zooming cars, crashing, things flying through the air. It’s actually quite amazing that a movie this filled with action is so devoid of violence!
At the same time the more ‘adult’ parts (like the rapturous history of Route 66) will be enjoyed by teens and grown-ups. The only problem is if the young kids aren’t drawn in by the action, they won’t entirely understand the ‘older’ stuff and therefore may not be quite as engaged with the film. There is a lot that only the adults will truly get, ie. the gag about tractor-tipping, though this is still pretty funny even if you’ve never heard of cow-tipping. The VW vs. army jeep business is typical of the things that will have grownups giggling but which will zoom past the youngsters. (And the VW is voiced by George Carlin. Of course!)
In case you’re scratching your head over the familiar voice of Doc, he was played by Paul Newman, a racecar enthusiast himself, in his last role. (And according to imdb.com, Cars was the highest grossing film of his entire career, which makes me a little sad…)
Other noteworthy cameos, for racing enthusiasts: Richard Petty plays the old champion King, Mario Andretti has a brief cameo, as do commentators Bob Costas and Darrell Waltrip, and Formula One champ Michael Schumacher shows up at the end as a Ferrari. (And was able to deliver his lines in English, German, Italian and French. Ah those Europeans!)
Like the other Pixar films, there is a fair amount of ‘smart-assedness’ here (can I copyright that term??). Characters argue and insult each other quite a lot. There are many cheeky double entendres, allowable only because we’re dealing with cars instead of people here. There’s a reference to “Cargirl” magazine in the dialogue. One car shows his undercarriage “customizations” to two other cars, who react as if they’ve just been flashed. There’s a comment about Sally’s tattoo on her “rear end”. As noted above, there’s the response to the Piston Cup “he did what in his cup?” One character says he’d “give his two left lug nuts” to do something. Another line of dialogue says winter will “rust your bolts and freeze your —“. And finally in another scene McQueen barges into Doc’s office just as a car is getting an oil change and everyone involved becomes incredibly embarrassed. (And probably a lot more that I just plain missed.)
In conclusion: There’s much that will float over the heads of young kids. Cars is fast, it’s smart, it’s irreverent, but perhaps won’t be loved by all in the same way that Finding Nemo or Wall-E can be. It will, definitely, be absolutely adored by all who love cars and sports.