Sunday, 26 November 2006

Cars (2006)

CarsIt's seemed that up to now Pixar could do no wrong. In a world that's become increasingly saturated with rather formulaic CGI 'toons' the studio has managed to maintain a quality bar that's way above the level of their competitors. The company's latest offering, Cars - coming on the back of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and the Toy Story movies - has, however, received some criticisms on its theatrical release, with many saying it lacked the 'magic' that the company's previous offerings have had in abundance.

Unfortunately I have to agree with those criticisms. While the animation and rendering are breath-taking, and move the industry even further forward in terms of photo-realistic imagery, the film's pacing is all wrong and the story rather muddled in parts. The film also runs about half an hour longer than it should do!

That being said, there's a lot to love about the film. It carries a rather old-fashioned message about the rat race we live in and, in true Disney style, lays that message on with a trowel in places, but the characters are endearing and there are some great jokes for children and adults alike. The opening race scene is too long, and there are times where one finds oneself wishing that director John Lasseter hadn't been quite so self-indulgent with his love of cars and the industry around them. But the heart of the movie is in the right place, and touches like the introduction of cow-like tractors seem truly inspired. I suspect the film plays rather more to adults than it should, and that kids may get bored at times, particularly when some of the car characters are too similar or speak so fast the story can get lost, but hopefully the quality of the animation will distract from the rather thin story and sometimes confusing dialogue.

Cars screencap

The extra's are a bit thin this time round for a Pixar release. The highlight is a six and a half minute story, Master and the Ghostlight featuring all the main characters from Cars. It tells the story of how the residents of Radiator Springs get their own back on Lightning's best buddy Mater, when his practical jokes go a bit too far, and has the same high quality production values as the main feature.

One Man Band is a curiosity, a four and a half minute feature about two entertainers competing for a little girl's golden coin that she is about to throw into a fountain. This is technically superb, and rendered to the same high CGI standards as the main feature, but it's hard to see children having much interest in the rather odd little adventure that's portrayed.

Inspiration for Cars, clocking in at just under seven minutes, is the most interesting feature, and is prefaced by the 'epilogue' that features to one side of the main film's closing credits, this time blown up to full-screen size. Director John Lasseter explains why the story is such a personal one for him, and we're shown behind-the-scenes footage of the trip he and his crew made when traveling Route 66 to get inspiration for the story Lasseter wanted to tell, after reading a book about how small towns had been ruined by the opening of an interstate highway.

Most disappointing are the Deleted Scenes, which are fully voiced, but turn out to be coloured storyboard pencil drawings displayed in sequence, rather than the finished CGI animations one might have expected from the blurb on the packaging. Running at seven minutes it's clear these planned story sections were jettisoned very early on in the development process, with some of the dialogue being used in different scenes that replaced them in the finished film.

Cars is a fun film that looks amazing, and is arguably the most technically proficient CGI movie that's been made. The DVD transfer is as good as one would hope for given the film's CGI origins, although it's disappointing that there hasn't been a simultaneous high definition release (there are noticeable examples of 'the jaggies' or 'stair-casing' on some of the scenes on standard DVD). From any other company the film would be regarded as a triumph, but coming from Pixar one had somehow expected a bit more, and the DVD release is so devoid of extra's one just knows that this is an attempt to gouge purchasers quickly before hitting them again with the inevitable double-disk release some time next year. For that reason this DVD release is possibly best viewed as a rental rather than a purchase, unless you have kids who will want to watch it repeated times and can't wait another twelve months for something better to come along.

Cars screencap

No comments: