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By Violet LeVoit | Posted 6/14/2006

Who couldn’t love Lightning McQueen? He’s the fastest rookie car on the racetrack, he’s got Owen Wilson’s charmer drawl, and he’s so shiny you want to lick his paint job right off. But he’s got his headlights on only one fine piece of engineering—himself—and so he makes his truck chauffeur Mack (voiced by John Ratzenberger) drive all night long to a career-making race. Mack accidentally dumps McQueen on an abandoned stretch of Route 66, and McQueen is left to fend for himself in the forgotten town of Radiator Springs, where tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) declares he’s his best friend and the gruff Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) insists he can’t leave until he paves the main drag. Director John Lasseter (Toy Story) deftly orchestrates Cars’ shifts in mood from the hyperkinetic televised sports frenzy of the racing circuit to the Frank Capra-esque dignity of the gently paced Radiator Springs scenes, proving that there’s more to making a computer-generated movie than just clicking render. When McQueen’s old rat-race life barges back into his small-town sabbatical, Cars puts the lie to the morally crude typicalities of kids’ flicks, asking not “Will Lightning McQueen win the big race?” but instead Will he achieve moral clarity and a balance between life and work? Between the stunning Monument Valley-worthy vistas, witty in-jokes, gripping story, and scrimshaw attention to detail (please notice how every car’s tires wear a different make-and-model appropriate tread), Pixar has created yet another airtight example of what the much-maligned “fun for the whole family” looks like at its best.

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