In the shiniest vehicle on the Pixar lot, hotshot race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is forced to make an unwanted pit-stop in the dusty, rusty town of Radiator Springs. Most of the locals are a few drops short of a full tank, but they sure know a thing or two about life in the slow lane. The story may be a little mechanical (and environmentally unfriendly) but Paul Newman and Michael Keaton are in good voice and the animation is premium grade.
Larry The Cable Guy
From the Toy Stories to The Incredibles, animation factory Pixar only deals in box office steamrollers. But since Cars was due to roll off the production line in September 2005, there were rumblings of a misfire.
But predictably, this supercharged tale of an egotistic auto left the competition standing in the US.
Preceded by an unconnected short fable about sparring one man bands, the main event immediately jams the pedal to the metal with a rip-roaring opening on the auto-racing circuit.
Zooming to the fore is Lightning McQueen (Wilson), a cocky hotrod who's just a week away from becoming the first rookie to win the prestigious Piston Cup.
Unfortunately, the wheels come off when Lightning's transporter Mack (Pixar regular John 'Cheers' Ratzenberger) falls asleep, stranding the red racer in the middle of a desert nowhere.
To make matters worse, Lightning accidentally rips up a stretch of Route 66 that runs through the by-passed burgh of Radiator Springs while trying to outrun the local sheriff. Cranky judge Doc Hudson (Newman) orders him to repair the damaged road.
Tyre-deep in tarmac and days away from the big race, Lightning has no time to waste chewing the cud with hillbilly tow-truck Mater (as in Tow-Mater, geddit?) or any of the other locals...
... with the exception of cute Porsche Sally (Hunt). She makes Lightning's stay more tolerable by showing him the wonders of driving off the beaten track, while Mater introduces him to the art of 'tractor-tipping'. These rusty rubes aren't so bad after all...
Voiced by hick comedian Larry the Cable Guy, Mater is one of the film's two stand-out characters. The other is Michael Keaton's sneaky rival racer Chick.
Apart from Newman's grouchmobile, none of the others make much impact, though 'drive-ons' from Michael Schumacher and other racing legends are fun.
This being Pixar, Cars is a joy to behold. The animators are blatantly showing off but who cares when gleaming chrome, spectacular desert vistas and heat-hazy racetracks are so perfectly rendered, alongside clever details like making 'flies' out of VW Bugs.
But while it consistently dazzles the eye, the story often splutters.
Familiarity is one thing, but it has an underlying message which is worrying hypocritical. A miracle of technology, it decries industrial progress while celebrating the wanton waste of fossil fuel that is motor racing.
For anyone concerned about global warming and the energy crisis, it's a real choker.
Still, in the race for best kids' movie of 2006, Cars takes pole position.