More noise than signal


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Were this year, film-wise at least, to be subject to a Stalinist style airbrushing from history I suspect few would notice. There’s been maybe three great films this year, and there’s even some internal debate about that. While there’s been a good few decent-to-very good efforts, and less of the complete, soul-rendingly terrible drivel that plagued 2005, overall you’d have to say it’s been an even poorer effort this year than last; frequent lows and vanishingly few highs. Still, there’s a few months left before we have to throw the year into the incinerator, and surely the dependable Pixar machine will deliver us from mediocrity?

Niet, comrade. Not that the new outing from the newly Disney-absorbed rendermonkeys is bad, in fact it fits comfortably into that decent-to-very good category we spoke of earlier, but it lacks the spark necessary to push it into Pixar’s usual premier league status. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is a self-absorbed rookie vying for the Piston Cup, the ultimate prize of that popular American sport of driving in a circle. In Britain, we call these roundabouts. Anyhoo, he’s locked in an unprecedented three way tie with the legendary The King (Richard Petty), racing his final season and perennial second placer Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton), who’s every bit as objectionable as McQueen.

However, shock, horror, diverse alarums, McQueen goes missing in transit to the final race of the season after quite literally falling off the back of a lorry in the middle of nowhere. The middle of nowhere is Radiator Springs, a once-bustling town in its Route 66 heyday that’s now a bypassed backwater, home to a few dilapidated businesses and kindhearted carpeople. Quite literally tearing up the main street on his entrance, making it the second quite literal thing to happen in this paragraph alone, McQueen is captured and in short order sentenced by Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) to community service, fixing the road he’s just ruined.

Will McQueen finish the road in time to make the big race? Will he learn a little humility and perspective on his journey of self-discovery? Will the initial antagonism between McQueen and attractive (presumably, lord knows how an anthropomorphised car feels about this sort of thing) Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) blossom into romance? Will everyone of Radiator Springs’ life be enriched by this rebellious interloper? Will this paragraph collapse under the crushing sarcasm of these questions, to all of which the answer is the one you were expecting?

Not that the previous Pixar outings have exactly been expectation-subverting avant garde provocation fodder, but there’s even more of an air of cloying predictability to this effort; worryingly feeling closer to a Disney film than a Pixar film. There was a time when such a comparison might have been a compliment, but not for about as long as I’ve been alive.

Owen Wilson plays the obnoxious git almost so well that you would have second thoughts about forgiving his inevitable change of heart, were you able to properly empathise with a car, which I am not. The supporting cast is of the usual Pixar quality, Newman and George Carlin in particular knocking out fine turns, and its certainly no less pretty a film than Pixar normally provide, albeit stripped of much of the abstractions that made Finding Nemo such a visual feast.

So what in blazes is wrong with it then? At the risk of sounding glib, it just isn’t as good as we’re used to. There’s a few sections that fall somewhat flat, and very little of it displays any of the wit that’s made Pixar films as enjoyable for adults as the kiddywinks. It tells its story and makes its excuses with little fanfare, but at least it tells a story. Going by Ice Age 2, this is becoming unfashionable.

I don’t know if it’s to Pixar’s credit or everyone else’s shame that a poor Pixar film is better than the bulk of everything produced thus far this year, but that’s how it stands. It’s a perfectly serviceable film, and the kids will be kept entertained, but there’s precious little here for the adults to get excited about. Decent film, no more, no less, welcome yet at the same time very, very disappointing.