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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CARS (article first published : 2006-07-23)

Cars is the latest success from the celebrated Pixar animation studio, whose many classics include Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc.

Directed by John Lassiter, it's not, sad to say, in the same class as those movies, notwithstanding exemplary animation, a great bunch of voice talents and, yes, a lot of vroom. But it does remain a solid effort, fun fare and a sweet treat ideal for families these holidays.

With a tank full of wit, both verbal and visual, and waxed and buffed with some delightful characters, it putts along through a world where vehicles take on human characteristics, as well as our pleasures, problems and pastimes. They talk, have eyes on their windscreens and mouths on their grills.

Here, people are nowhere to be seen and a petrol station is a drive-in restaurant, shoe stores are tyre stores and doctors are mechanics.

Cars turns headlights on a zooty red racing car called Lightning McQueen which, if it wins one more race, will qualify as one of the greatest of athletes. However, after some wrong turns and a stray from the beaten track, Lightning ends up in Radiator Springs, a dusty town off the legendary Route 66, which has long lost its lustre and its place on the map since a nearby freeway diverted traffic from it.

There, rationed with petrol and forced to re-tar the potholed main street he ruined, Lightning starts to make friends with locals, including an earthy scrap heap called Mater. He's a cheerful, buck-toothed tow-truck that's seen better days and lays claim to being the world's fastest backwards driver.

There's also a cantankerous Army jeep, an excitable Italian vehicle that owns a luxury-tyre business and a "tattoo artist" vehicle, called Ramon, that tries to convince Lightning that his racing stickers are lame.

My favourite is a sleepy, like-wow-man 60s stationwagon, called Philmore, that sells organic petrol from a tie-dyed tent and wakes to the music of Jimi Hendrix. Yeah, man, yeah.

In time, Lightning starts to enjoy life in the slow lane, gets turbo-charged over a perky local Porsche called Sally and starts to realise that, in life, it's not the destination but the journey that counts most.

The movie is flecked with many amusing moments - watch for the quick vehicular send-ups of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Formula One icons - and offers some incidental songs, but is not a musical. And when you see it make sure you stay put for the entire final credits sequence as there are some magical aside moments involving vehicles at a drive-in, watching titles such as Toy Car Story and other variations of the Pixar classics.

Featuring voice talents that include Owen Wilson, Paul Newman and Bonnie Hunt, Cars gets a rating of 7/10. - Billy Suter




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