Exquisitelycrafted and warmly emotional, Cars isanother dazzling display Of computer animation from the apparently infalliblepeople at Pixar, this one telling its tale with a cast of cleverly humanisedautomobiles.
The commercialprospects are certainly very strong, but the company's latest comedy adventure maynot be quite as sure a thing as Pixar's track record suggests: with less dramaticpunch and cheeky humour than predecessors like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, Cars might need a bit of an extra push from distributor Disney if it is toreach the all-inclusive audience of kids and adults necessary to produce reallyhuge box office numbers.
Disney- which, as the company's new owner, has an especially large investment in itsseventh Pixar release - launches Cars inthe US this weekend, making thefilm only Pixar's second summer opener, after 2003's $340m domestic smash FindingNemo.
Thoughthe summer schedule provides plenty of animation competition (from the recentlyreleased Over The Hedge to the upcoming MonsterHouse and The Ant Bully),Disney's massive promotional drive should ensure Cars a monster opening.
Longer-termprospects will depend on whether or not kids demand repeat viewings of what is,by animation standards, a fairly long and understated story.
Cars begins to roll into the international marketplace later this month andarrives in most European territories between July and September.
Thoughall but two of Pixar's previous titles have done better internationally than inthe US, selling this film's distinctly American car-culture backdrop could be trickyfor Disney's Buena Vista International division.
Alongtime pet project for Pixar creative head John Lasseter, who co-wrote thescript and directed (for the first time since 1999's Toy Story 2), Cars tells the tale of LightningMcQueen (voiced by Wilson), an ambitious young racing carwhose only goal is to become king of the track.
Enroute to a big race in California, McQueen gets stuck in Radiator Springs, aonce thriving town on the legendary Route 66 that turned into a sleepy hamletwhen it was bypassed by an interstate highway.
McQueen'sdealings with the town's offbeat car inhabitants - among them a stern judge(voiced by Newman), a female Porsche (Hunt) and a rusty tow truck (Larry theCable Guy - produces a bit of drama, some gentle comedy and a little romance.
Italso allows some exploration of decidedly adult themes including thedisappearance of small-town values.
Thecar 'characters' are brought to life with windscreen eyes and bumper mouths.
Their distinct personalities come out through a range of body styles - the townhippy is a VW van, for example, and its tyre shop owner a vintage Fiat - andimaginative animation of wheels and bodywork.
Theanimation is consistently spectacular, sometimes approaching photo-realism.
Particularly effective are the beginning and ending racing sequences -the film is the first from Pixar to use the 'ray tracing' lighting effect technique- and the desert landscapes around Radiator Springs.
Thereare, in fact, times when Cars seems to be admiringits own virtuosity ratherthan getting on with the story.
The first hour has some decidedly slow stretchesand even when the narrative momentum picks up the story is fairly predictableand not terribly eventful.
Theresult is an unnecessarily (and unusually, for an animated film) long runningtime of almost two hours.
Amongthe voice performers, Wilson (The Wedding Crashers) and Hunt(CheaperBy The Dozen) serve their parts quite nicely, whileNewman provides some gravitas and comedian-actor Larry the Cable Guy delivers somenice comic routines.
Thelatter's goofy tow truck character is the source of most of the film's funniestmoments.
Pixarregular Randy Newman wrote the score, as well as an original song performed byJames Taylor.
Inwhat seems like another appeal to older audiences, other songs - most with acountry or rock'n'roll flavour and a couple used to accompany montage sequences- are performed by Sheryl Crow, Rascal Flatts and John
Pixar Animation Studios
Walt Disney Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista International
Darla K Anderson
Kiel Murray & Phil Lorin
Supervising technical director
Main cast (voices)
Larry the Cable Guy