Cartoon stock racers find fuel for the soul |

Cartoon stock racers find fuel for the soul

Shauna Farnell
Special to the Post Independent

I was a little worried during the first two minutes of “Cars” that, worse even than watching live NASCAR vehicles make 200 laps around a track, I’d have to watch cartoon stock cars do it for two hours.

Then the plot began to unfold and thankfully involved more than how google-eyed hot rods could best each other in the cartoon race series’ premier event.

One is quickly reassured that it doesn’t take a NASCAR insider to appreciate the intricacies of dialogue and character zing in “Cars.”

From a concept standpoint, there is something about cartoon cars that is immediately not as cuddly and lovable as cartoon animals, cartoon people, cartoon monsters or cartoon toys. But director John Lasseter (who directed both “Toy Story” movies, “A Bug’s Life,” and produced “Finding Nemo, “The Incredibles” and “Monsters, Inc.”) and writer Robert Baird (who also wrote “Chicken Little” and “Monsters, Inc.”) managed to overcome that.

You’ll never find such endearing scraps of animated metal.

In car land, where even the flies are Volkswagens with wings, Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is the latest and greatest rookie stock car on the NASCAR-like circuit. He has the ego to go with it, and when he and veteran star The King (Richard Petty) and perpetual runner-up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton) find themselves in a three-way tie going into the revered Piston Cup, McQueen is confident that he will end up on the top of the podium and fulfilled with all of the sponsorship, fame and fortune that comes with it.

Besides being dangerously cocky, McQueen’s character flaws are evident early on.

He takes full credit for all of his accomplishments, alienates his pit crew and claims to have no need for a team. He’s disgusted by his sponsor and simply wants to move up the ladder without anything so burdensome as friends or helpers to pose as obstacles along the way.

When McQueen loses his way on Route 66 and winds up in trouble in the tiny, forgotten town of Radiator Springs, he learns the value of friendship and selflessness.

The rusty residents of Radiator Springs prove as fun and realistic as small-town, redneck vehicles could be, complete with bucktoothed Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) making night-time entertainment out of tractor-tipping (the tractors somehow have floppy ears and say “moo”), a hippie VW that sells organic fuel and Italian tire salesmen who get fiery and confrontational when someone rubs them the wrong way.

Luigi and Guido, who are not well-informed of the non-European race circuit, worship Ferrari racers, and Michael Schumacher is one of many voice cameos that pops up throughout the film along with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mario Andretti and Jay Leno.

While perhaps not achieving the same ultimate entertainment glory as “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles” or “Monsters, INC.,” “Cars” finds some truly clever paths on which to fuel its humor and hits a comfortable cruising speed with an original, creative story.

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