Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fast Company

I had intended to write a review of Nacho Libre, the new Jack Black flick, since I had free passes to a sneak preview.

But there was a traffic jam, and apparently, not much to do on a Tuesday night in Smugtown. The combination of the two prevented me from seeing this particular bit of entertainment.

My friend Sugar Dave, however, did manage to get in. It was packed full, and he ended up sitting on the concrete on the top steps of the theater to see it.

His review? "Oh it was really good. Very funny."

So what was the plot? "Well, Jack Black and his friend try to wrestle and stuff...and it was funny."

Sugar Dave's not the deepest thinker.

But I was left at a movie theater with two preteens who expected to see a movie. I had expected not to have to pay to see a movie.

Then I looked down and saw something on my daughters' hand. There was some...thing wrapped around her little finger.

Turns out it was me.

So we went to see Cars.

Before I write about it, I want to point out a tipping point moment with the previews. There were four of them. And, for the first time (for me at least), every trailer was for a 3-D animated movie. Used to be, these movies were special occasions. Now they're run-of-the mill.

Four cartoon trailers. And two of them involved pests. Where the exterminator is a bad guy. Plus, there's Over the Hedge, currently in theaters. Hollywood wants you to believe varmints and pests are the good guys, and the guy you pay to get rid of them is some sort of murderous psychopath.

Speaking as someone who's battling a carpenter ant infestation, and who's got a raccoon trying to get into his garbage cans every night, I can safely say that this is not the case.*

Now, about Cars: It's always nice when a cartoon for parents has enough entertainment value to keep the kids happy as well. And that's what we had here.

This is not a kid's movie. Don't get me wrong--it's 'G' rated, and has lots of fun and flashy stuff in it that will make every kid kick the seat in front with delight and excitement, but that's not who this flick is focused on.

It's aimed at the NASCAR Dad.

I'm not a big NASCAR fan. I don't know Rusty Wallace from a rusty fender. But this movie was chockfull of car-culture references. Most of which I'm guessing were over the heads of the average 8 to 10 year olds.

Me? I ate it up. So many people in the automobile world were represented in this thing that even me, a guy who had gotten over car fever a few decades ago, was impressed.

"Look! That's Richard Petty!" I'd whisper to my son.

"Oh! That's Click and Clack the Tappit Brothers!" I'd murmer to my daughter.

"I don't care!" he'd offer.

"Shut up!" she'd suggest.

But it was cool to me.

And it's an interesting phenomenon: If there was a movie where Owen Wilson and Bonnie Hunt were flirting with each other on camera, my kids would be bored, regardless of the level of wit in the dialogue. But if he's a racecar, and she's a Porsche, they'll be enamored.

So anyways.

Owen Wilson is Ligthning McQueen, rookie sensation on the Piston Cup circuit, looking to be the first rookie to ever win the cup. He's cocky and selfish, and his arrogance costs him an outright championship of the Cup, and sets up an unprecidented three-way race-off to determine the championship, between him, the reiging champ, a gentlemanly King (Petty) and the eternally second place car, the aggressive/dirty Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton).

On his way to the race, McQueen gets waylaid, and ends up in the nearly-deserted Radiator Springs, where he meets a group of colorful characters, who show him the true meaning of friendship and give him a true sense of perspective.

Sound familiar? It's basically the plot of Doc Hollywood.

There's nothing new here. Not a damn thing. Not in plot, not in character, not in animation style. Even some of the naming gags--Bob Costas as Bob Cutlass, Darrell Waltrip as Darrell Cartrip--are used (anyone remember Stony Curtis from The Flintstones?).

That doesn't mean it's not good. To continue the metaphor: there's nothing new, really in the 2006 Bentleys, either. But they're still selling for six figures.

Even though it's old ground, it's covered with a muscular authority and grace. Every character is fully developed, both in terms of graphics and in storyline. Each character in the frame, no matter whether it's the main character, or just in the background, is drawn with the same attention to detail.

From the bugs on the windows of the old stores (VW Beetless with wings, by the way), to the individual chunks of broken-off asphalt that jump and bounce with the passing of the racers, every pixel is planned and executed with zero tolerance. Even with sequential processing on the fastest computers out there, the average frame render on this move was seventeen hours. That means each second of the movie took seventeen days to finish. That's just render time. Rendering's the last step in a CGI movie. To get to the render phase takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours of work. And it shows.

The dialogue is also predictible, but sparkling, and the characters are vital. Paul Newman is as curmudgeonly as he can be as Doc Hudson, the town Judge/physician, who has a bone to pick with race cars. Bonnie hunt is at her sparkliest as Sally Carrera, the big city Porsche with small town dreams. And it pains me to say it, but the biggest scene-stealer of all is Dan Whitney (AKA Larry the Cable Guy) who embodies all that is annoying and endearing (usually the same traits) about rednecks as the tow truck, Mater ("like tomater, but without the tuh"), while leaving out the racism, fear and misogyny.

In the end John Lassiter shows everyone why he is the King of the CGI movie world. And there's no hotshot rookie coming up behind him.

Go see it. Hell, you might even want to bring your kids along.


*although now that I think of it...


Blogger Guy Wonders said...

Excellent review. . . it makes me want to rent some kids and see this one. . . and I'd forgotten all about Stony Curtis until you mentioned it. I liked him even better than Tony.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Heidi the Hick said...

What a great review! I'll go see it but I don't think I'll review it. I don't think I can top yours!

I love cars. We want to take my gearhead Ol Man to see it with us.

And just so you know, it has always bothered me that the pests are the poor lil good guys in the movies. I remember being a kid and thinking, But the mice steal stuff and leave hair in the bottom of the cupboards! We want the cats to eat them!!!!

7:20 PM  
Blogger dusty said...

Nice writeup. I figured that since they have been hyping the hell out of that movie during all sunday Nascar races..that was their main audience..but as you can also keep the kids entertained.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

Guy--thanks. If you can't wrangle young Doo, or the kid who's always selling candy, to go, I'll loan you mine. I'll even give you a Canadian currency discount.

Heidi: Your dad will love it. If you want, you can copy my review over onto your site. Just give me credit.

Dusty: it's not just the Neckcar races. You can't swing a fanbelt in our local grocery store without hitting some product with a 'Cars' tie-in...

9:01 PM  
Blogger Ookami Snow said...

Hint: Rusty Wallace wears a hat. A rusty fender does not.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...

tee hee
wrapped around her little finger

over the hedge is freakin hilarious
you gotta see it

8:40 AM  
Blogger Notsocranky Yankee said...

Thanks for the review. Believe it or not, I hadn't heard of it yet.

I can't wait to see Nacho Libre. They were advertising it big time in the store where I bought my daughter's Social Distortion shirt. (It was a "goth" type store called Hot Topic, aimed at teenagers from what I could tell.)

10:04 AM  
Blogger Balloon Pirate said...

ook: thanks for the tip. I've saved it for future reference. Thanks for stopping by, too.

colleen--been there, seen that. 'But I like the cookie..."

notso--you'll love it. so will cranky, although I doubt he'll admit it. I'm quite aware of the corporatized counter-culture phenomenon called Hot Topic. Second son used to just about live there, until he started calling it 'corporatized counter-culture.'


10:51 AM  
Blogger meredithchandler73 said...

This is a terrific review. I particularly like that you acknowledge that this movie's plotline is basically the same as Doc Hollywood - and that it doesn't matter". (Don't get me started on some of the idiots posting on

I don't actually watch movies in movie theaters much, even the ones everyone says you must see on a big screen. (My favorite way to watch a movie is in an empty or almost empty theater - where no one talking will spoil my enjoyment.) I knew I had to see it because I worship Bonnie Hunt. Seriously - this woman is great in everything she does. (For the record - I know she has been in some clunkers, but she is always good.) And you don't have to be a kid not to want to see Owen Wilson and Bonnie Hunt flirting - I don't know that I'd necessarily want to see that either, but in the movie, it's just adorable.

Anyway, thanks for this great review.

11:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home