In a plot that seems borrowed from Michael J. Fox’s Doc Hollywood, Owen Wilson is a hotshot on his way to Los Angeles who finds himself stranded in a small town after a vehicular mishap. Eventually, he makes his way toward L.A., and toward fame and fortune, but he realizes he prefers the world of close ties and loyal friendships he left behind in the remote hamlet. Of course, in this Pixar cartoon, all the characters are anthropomorphic automobiles. The studio’s decision to place their eyes in the windshield, instead of the headlights, was treated as a shocking controversial move at the time, but the result is a set of adorable motorized creatures with an especially strong appeal to small children.
Grownups will catch plenty of references to racing movies past; Wilson’s protagonist is called Lightning McQueen, and the oldtimer Doc Hudson is voiced by Paul Newman (in his last film role). The racing scenes are few but dramatic, with Richard Petty himself voicing one of Lightning’s rivals (his character, Strip “The King” Weathers, is designed to look like Perry’s own 1970 Plymouth Superbird). The sequel, Cars 2, takes Lightning to Europe for a Grand Prix race, but while that film has more action, the original has more heart.
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