Pixar Review 19: Cars

cars3Here we go to one of the more controversial Pixar entries.  A lot of people hate this movie.  A lot more people hate the sequel but we’ll get to that later.  I do not hate them.  They aren’t masterpieces but they aren’t total trash either.

Before I start the review I will give the same caveat I gave in my Planes: Fire and Rescue review- these movies are nutty.  I recently talked about turning your brain off in a movie.  Well, this is a movie where I kind of have to turn off my brain.  Why?  Well, let me give you an example of the kind of questions this world brings up.  So we have a world of all cars, no humans.  There are girl cars, boy cars, old cars, new cars.  How do cars procreate?  Are there baby cars that grow and morph into regular cars or do they emerge full size from some kind of car tree?

Wouldn’t a world of all cars be really polluted and would they really care?  They are cars.  Their blood is basically gasoline- the grossest, dirtiest product out there.  Also, who decides when they want to discontinue a car? Isn’t that kind of cruel?  There is a Model T in the movie so obviously some cars are repaired and others are left to die with no new parts (in Planes: Fire and Rescue they have discontinued his gear box.  I guess his number has been determined by someone to be up…very odd).

You get the idea.  If you start pulling at a string on this movie you will be down the rabbit hole in seconds.  It’s bizarre.  Who thinks of a world made entirely of cars?

Well, John Lasseter loves cars and he directed this movie.  And if you can see him through all the nuttiness there are some things to enjoy in Cars.

To begin with there is a young rookie car named Lightning McQueen who is cocky, brash and rude.  All the voicework is great in Cars including Owen Wilson as Lightning.  The opening race scene for the piston cup is so much fun.  It reminds me of going past the Indy 500 track every day on my mission.  They capture the feel of the races and I think the way they added the eyes and mouths work for the characters.  Compare them to the mouths and eyes for Thomas the Tank Engine and you will see what I mean.

Lightning feels he is too good for his sponsor Rusteze who make bumper ointment which again in this nutty world is a funny joke.  I also LOVE so  much that my favorite radio guys from Car Talk Tom and Ray are featured as the Rusteze spokespcars.  This is especially moving as Tom passed away last year and I miss hearing his voice every Saturday on my radio.  I hate cars and I loved Car Talk. There are a ton of cameos in Cars including racing greats like Mario Andretti.  As someone who lived near the Indy track that was a lot of fun.

Tom and his Dodge dart. RIP Tom from Car Talk

Lightning McQueen ends up getting lost on the way to California and ends up in historic Route 66.  This is the strongest part of Cars- the love letter to Americana, Main Street USA and Route 66.  It makes you want to get in a car and take a drive down an old highway and eat at an old diner.  It’s a part of America that has been forgotten and that is the true message of Cars. To not forget the America that made us great.cars6Anyway, he runs into a town called Radiator Springs and ends up damaging the road.  In order to be released the Judge orders he fix the road which will take a few days.  Meanwhile nobody at the track knows where he is or has a way to reach him.  (We also learn earlier that Lightning has no real friends but an agent who could care less).  So Lightning is forced to spend time with the yokels of Radiator Springs.

There is Sally the Porsche voiced by Bonnie Hunt. (Like I said all the voice work is great)

Paul Newman is Doc Hudson- a crochety old Hudson car.  George Carlin is a hippie VW camper van, and Tony Shalhoub from Monk (the man of every accent) is one of a set of Italians who dream of changing tires of a Ferrari.

cars7Cars has a huge cast so I could go on and on but the true co-star of the movie along with Lightning is Mater, the tow truck, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy.

I know some people hate Larry and hate Mater but I think he is sweet, loveable and innocent.  I really enjoy the character.  He’s so eager to please others and make friends.  That’s very loveable.  He even says his signature ‘get r done’ that Larry used to do on tour.  So I like Mater.  And I really like the friendship Lightning and Mater form.  It’s kind of a more simpleton version of Woody and Buzz. cars4

The plot to Cars is nothing we haven’t seen before.  Of course Lightning grows to love the cars of Radiator Springs and of course he is humbled and becomes a better person. That is all fine.  Where the movie is great is like I said in the homage and spirit of old time America and Route 66.  I love this segment when Sally and Lightning are driving on their date.  It’s so beautiful.

I also love this scene where Sally tells Lightning about what happened to Radiator Springs.  It’s the story of so many American towns and a great message for kids to learn about.  They need to know about the death of Main Street America and how things used to be.

Another special thing about Cars is how it uses music.  This is one of the few Disney movies I can think of that uses a soundtrack (Lilo and Stitch?) instead of an original score/songs.  I think this was because they wanted to pay homage to so many of the great songs about Route 66.  They are all lovely songs.  I’ve always found Rascal Flats Life is a Highway especially engaging.  If this song doesn’t make you want to tap your toes I don’t know what will!

There’s also a lovely numbers by Brad Paisley, James Taylor, Chuck Berry, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer and more.  I love the soundtrack!

As far as weaknesses there are problems.  As I’ve already said there’s the ridiculous world-building and the predictable rather saccharin story.  Also I must admit this watch-through I was surprised how long it is.  At nearly 2 hours I did find it wearing out its welcome.  I was bored for stretches where we get long segments with Doc, Lightning and Mater racing, repairing roads, talking and other scenes.  There is one bizarre scene where Lightning and Mater go cow-tipping with tractor cows (such a strange movie!).  This movie could easily have 30 minutes taken away and not suffer a bit.  In fact, it would be greatly improved.

But all that aside I do love the message of Americana and remembering our rich history of small towns, Main Street, and Route 66.  There are towns in America that the Interstate has made us forget but they were special places and we should remember them. Even the most flourishing of small towns are full of empty abandoned storefronts. I say this as someone who lives firmly in suburbia it is a real loss.   I loved all of that.  It also looks beautiful with vistas of red rock and sunsets.  I also liked the friendships built by Lightning, Mater, Sally, and others.  It’s a nice message for kids and the ending is very sweet.

Plus, I find Larry the Cable Guy funny so Mater is great comic relief.

It’s a mixed bag for me Cars and I didn’t like it quite as much this watch-through as I have in the past. But in the end these movies were made to entertain little boys without as much concern for crossover appeal as other Pixar movies.  And I have yet to meet a little boy that doesn’t love Cars.  Nothing wrong with that.

So my Overall Grade is= B-

Here’s the trailer

Night at the Museum 3 Review

night at museum9Not every movie is a masterpiece but you can still enjoy it and that’s how I always felt about the Night at the Museum movies.  They weren’t ‘good’ movies but I liked them and they had enough laughs and overall charm to make them worth a watch.  I kind of feel the same about the National Treasure movies.  I can imagine that back in the day lots of movies were made like them.  Whether it was a stock shoot em up western or a fun action adventure show Hollywood has always made campy family friendly movies that are entertaining if not particularly memorable.

Unfortunately even these innocent franchises can strain the tenuous chord of likability they have and I’m afraid that is what Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb has done.  Even with such marginal expectations I was really disappointed by it. Especially with the talent, it is a really lame film.

night at museum3If you are unaware of the series it is a pretty simple set up.  Basically Ben Stiller plays a night watchman at the Natural History Museum in New York and each night the characters from the museum become alive including a strange mixture of history and natural history that I don’t think any museum actually has.  We have everything from Atilla the Hun to Teddy Roosevelt to a T-Rex.  It is basically a Toy Story premise with various challenges threatening to shut down the museum and end the nightly lives of our heroes.  The key to making it work is having enough characters and a witty enough script to keep it moderately entertaining.  For instance, Night at the Museum 2 was helped immeasurably by Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart and Bill Hader as General Custer.

Unfortunately in Museum 3 the script isn’t funny enough and the new cast is woefully underused.  The new challenge to the cast of characters is the magical tablet is starting to get a green mold on it and the magic is starting to lessen.  Through convoluted series of events they all have to go to London to find the Egyptian home of the tablet and they all come with Ben Stiller’s Larry.  The main new additions in London are Rebel Wilson as a security guard who doesn’t get one good joke sadly and I love her so much. She tries so hard to get the laughs but the material just isn’t there.

night at museum7They also meet Lancelot played by Dan Stevens who isn’t campy enough.  He isn’t fun enough.  I kept thinking- “You left Lady Mary with a baby for this!”

night at museum4There was one funny scene where Lancelot storms in on Hugh Jackman playing King Arthur in Camelot on a stage.  Got to hand it to Jackman for being willing to laugh at his Wolverine character and public persona.

I kind of felt like Night at the Museum 3 was trying to make a touching send off without giving us a good story on its own.  It’s really a shame because it is our last appearance of Robin Williams and he is the one spot where the goodbye tone feels earned.  I wish there was more for him to do than just say goodbye.

night at museum6To show how this movie wastes talent we have Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson as the miniatures- two of the funniest men out there and their humor just falls flat.  This movie even resorts to characters getting urinated on. I mean that is Adam Sandler territory and with such talent it is a real shame.

night at the museum5The worst part is the time spent with Ben Stiller and his son who wants to skip college and become a DJ.  That’s just what I want in my campy family comedy, teenage father arguments.  I mean how is that fun for kids?

In the end, I went in with very modest, measured expectations but Night at the Museum 3 couldn’t even meet those.  It was just a waste and the only time I laughed was the Hugh Jackman bit and I did like saying goodbye to Robin Williams even if I wish he’d gotten more.

As far as content aside from the urinating monkey there isn’t anything offensive or bothersome. That said, I really don’t think it will have much to entertain kids.  I think they will be bored by a lot of the relationship stuff and Egyptian tomb mumbo jumbo.  I’d say Penguins of Madagascar is much funnier recent family comedy or even Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.

So in the end I can’t see giving it any higher than a D+