Pixar’s computer-animated features rarely disappoint in terms of concept, storyline, characterisation or image rendering. That’s predominantly the case with this rollicking nod to the motor car and, more pertinently, the once lively US roadside towns that upped and died along with the advent of the bypass. Car-nut John Lasseter veered off through some of these ghost towns while travelling on Route 66 and was clearly inspired into getting the sentiment across on celluloid. He’s mostly succeeded. Mostly, because, while the film as a whole is great fun, well written and superbly animated, it takes far too long to get into gear.
The first restless 20 minutes or so is spent in the vicinity of a loud racing oval where the film’s lead, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), is seen trying to win the chance to enter the famed Piston Cup. Lightning gets his wish but en route to the circuit, he accidentally rolls out of his trailer and finds himself in hick town, Radiator Springs, where he meets a quirky bunch of locals, and the film finally finds its legs. Characterisation is as strong as ever but pole position goes to rusty tow-truck, Mater: the scene where he takes Lighting into the paddock to scare a ‘herd’ of snoozing tractors is priceless. There are many other brilliant scenes, some just as funn but there are just as many occasions where you feel the film’s struggling to fire on all cylinders. Still, it’s a Pixar film, right? And they’re always worth a gander no matter what anyone says.