To call Cars the first Pixar film to flop is bizarre. Some discuss the performance of a film that took over $240m in the States alone as a disappointment, when in fact it out grossed several of Pixar’s own films, namely A Bug’s Life, Ratatouille and Toy Story. At the time of writing, it’s the ninth most successful film ever at the American box office. Some failure that is.
But the film does mark the first time that Pixar has come in for concerted criticism over one its films, and that’s something that’s much harder to defend. Because while Cars displays much of Pixar’s rightly-renowned imagination, and while it positively glistens on the screen, it does labour its way through a script that becomes very, very bogged down in the second act.
The story is that of a cocky rookie race car by the name of Lightning McQueen, who is on the verge of winning the Piston Cup in his first season. Dreaming of being part of the Dinoco Empire, a three-way tie for the Cup – which forms the dazzling opening sequence of the film – leads to a play-off race on the other side of the country a week later. But when McQueen gets lost en route to the race, he ends up in a small town called Radiator Springs where – gosh – he learns lots of values of life, before the inevitable big denouement.
The problem is that the middle third, where McQueen undergoes his transformation into not-a-bad-motor-actually is flabby and prolonged. It also, and it’s hard to remember thinking this of a Pixar film before – borderline dull. Which is a real pity, because the start and end of the film are terrific, and do make persevering with Cars’ slower moments worthwhile. But why in a film about fast moving racing cars everything stops still for so long is a mystery.
The high definition presentation of the film, however, is stunning, presenting a different challenge to the recently-reviewed Ratatouille. Here, the action at peak intensity is very, very fast, very colourful and – still – utterly stunning to look at. Once again, computer animation delivers a reference-quality visual image, and Cars’ picture is easily up there with the very best you’ll ever see at 1080p.
The audio workout is aggressive, too. The 5.1 surround track lacks any compression and is packed with a lot of punch. Always delivering a broad, lively soundstage, it’s a track where there’s plenty going on, and when it hits top gear provides an awesome workout for any decent surround rig.
The extra features aren’t bad, with some holdovers from the DVD, and a few new Blu-ray exclusive additions. So there’s a smattering of passable enough deleted scenes, and a short piece that looks into the inspiration for the Cars movie which we’ve seen before, and new commentary tracks, some behind the scene featurettes and a game that we haven’t. Some forced adverts too, which are always an irritation. But the commentary work is interesting and busy, and the high-definition supplements do dig into things more satisfactorily than the original DVD release.
Cars, then, may be weak Pixar, but the argument that an off-form Pixar still punch harder than many of its competitors holds true. It’s a film with some smashing moments, albeit one badly in need of some trimming. However, as a top-end high definition workout, it’s very, very hard to complain.