Hybrids are the latest technology in automobiles, pairing the power of a gasoline engine with the smooth economy of an electric motor. But “Cars,” the latest offering from Disney/Pixar, is a hybrid of a different and delightful kind. It combines the sleek, “wow”-worthy visuals of Pixar’s computer animation with the rich, old-fashioned storytelling of classic Disney.


While computer animation has never looked so good, the team that brought us “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” knows–just like any good race car driver–that it’s what’s under the hood that counts. Pop the hood on Cars and you’ll find an engine purring with soul, humor and solid life-lessons, fueled by pure heart.


It wasn’t long ago that most of the voice work in animated films was done by expressive but largely unknown actors. But recently, particularly after career resuscitating voice work by the likes of Robin Williams (“Aladdin”) and Eddie Murphy (“Shrek”), “A-list” stars have been lining up to lend their vocal talents to cartoon characters, with animators using the actors’ established screen personas as an integral part of the characters.


Cars boasts an all-star cast, featuring the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt and even Larry the Cable Guy. The presence of NASCAR legends like Richard Petty, Mario Andretti and Dale Earnhardt Jr. voicing four-wheeled characters is a special treat for race fans.


In a world populated by cars, not people, Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is speed personified. He’s also callow, self-centered and oblivious to the feelings and contributions of those who have helped him along the way.


Poised to become the only rookie to win racing’s ultimate crown, the Piston Cup, McQueen scuttles himself during the championship race by callously firing his Pit Boss. Moments after declaring he’s a “one man show,” he blows a tire and then the race.


McQueen begins a cross-country journey to California for an unprecedented tie-breaking race with current champ “The King” (voiced by Richard Petty) and conniving perennial runner-up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton). But along the way, his journey becomes more about self-discovery and less about winning a race.


When he accidentally leaves the interstate, McQueen finds himself lost and scared on old Route 66. After recklessly zooming through the center of the dilapidated little town of Radiator Springs, he gets impounded and sentenced to community service.


Nothing could be more foreign to McQueen than the idea of “community service” since he has never really done anything for anyone else before. McQueen has been so focused on winning and glory that he literally has no family or friends; even his agent is just a faceless voice on a cell phone.


However, in Radiator Springs the car who personifies speed is forced to slow down. With the help of the colorful, but goodhearted cars of Radiator Springs, he learns that in his race to succeed he has been speeding past the things that really count-things like friendship, loyalty, and God’s beautiful creation. Perhaps most importantly, he learns that it is immensely more satisfying to help others than to simply look out for his own interests.


Over time, the snobbish speedster, who declared himself a “one man show,” also learns that no one makes it on his or her own. The cars of Radiator Springs, which he initially dismissed as rusty “hillbillies,” become a type of family. Each one has wisdom and talent and teaches him more than he expected-especially Doc (Paul Newman), an old Hudson sedan, with a past full of secrets and a few racing tricks in his trunk.


From Doc, McQueen learns his most important lesson: that winning at all costs is no way to run a race and that honor, respect and decency spell victory as clearly as crossing the finish line first. In the end, the most important question is not whether McQueen wins the big race, but rather how has he changed.


Writer/Director John Lasseter has said his inspiration for the film was a recent family trip across the length of “the Mother Road,” Route 66, which helped him slow down and drew him closer to his family. With “Cars,” he also gives us a loving portrait of the old road and the little towns now bypassed by the interstate highway system, each filled with unique character and good folk struggling to survive.


With its visual treats, colorful characters, lessons in values and affectionate slice of Americana, Cars is a family film worth getting revved up about.


Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.


This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church


MPAA Rating: G

Director: John Lasseter

Writers: Dan Fogelman

Cast: Lightning McQueen: Owen Wilson; Doc Hudson: Paul Newman; Sally Carrera: Bonnie Hunt; Mater: Larry the Cable Guy.


The movie’s official Web site.

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