Cars remains a terrific piece of entertainment, populated entirely by cars (even the insects are miniature automobiles with wings). Cocksure McQueen finds himself lost in the dilapidated Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. After finishing first in a three-way tie during the much ballyhooed Piston Cup championship, the near-ghost town becomes his temporary home after getting sidetracked en route to the tie-breaker race in California. While the rest of the world panics over the disappearance of the star racer, McQueen serves community service after damaging the Springs’ roadway.
It’s Doc Hudson who puts McQueen to work and also triggers the human heart beating at the center of all these metal machines. Doc’s voice is supplied by the late legend Paul Newman, himself a race car enthusiast and experienced driver during his lifetime. This was fairly near the end of Newman’s life and by this point his voice had developed a hard-earned, gravelly gravitas. In what feels like another lifetime to the gruff old Hudson Hornet, Doc was in fact the multi-champion “Fabulous Hudson Hornet.” He’s kind of embittered at this point, laying low in Radiator Springs and eschewing any reference to his past fame. No surprise that McQueen eventually learns about Doc’s illustrious past, but the way it affects him late in the film (as he battles the fiercely competitive Chick Hicks—voiced by Michael Keaton) is deeply felt.
A lot of what makes Cars such a triumph is the affectionate longing for a bygone era that director John Lasseter brings to the material. Set among a stylized version of the great, scenic vistas of the American Southwest, everything in Radiator Springs carries the sweet scent of nostalgia. As depicted in everything from the cars themselves (save the Porsche, Sally—voiced by Bonnie Hunt) to the decaying buildings, the sad reality that the once-heady Route 66 of the past is now long gone hangs over the entire picture. The combination of old-school visuals with decidedly new-school CG animation is what gives Cars such a unique flavor.
Again, the 3D presentation is superb, but the 2D second disc is nothing to scoff at either. Ultimately, as with most movies converted to 3D, the original two-dimension version is the definitive one. Having never seen Cars on Blu-ray before, I can’t say for certain whether this is the exact same transfer as previously available, but I can say it is a stunningly sharp and detailed viewing experience. Audio is available as a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and the music and effects sound awesome. Everything about this surround mix is pleasing to the ear, with a ton of well-placed ambiance and revving motors emanating from the rear channels.
There’s nothing new here in terms of special features, which may come as a disappointment for those who already own the 2D Cars Blu-ray from 2007. The “Cine-Explore” mode is an interactive commentary that allows a choice between Lasseter’s solo track and a tech-oriented group track. Early design images and other stills pop up throughout, along with behind-the-scenes featurettes and more (which can be accessed manually or set to play automatically). This kind of interactive format (listed, oddly, under the “Games” category in the menu) isn’t generally my favorite, but it works extremely well here. Lasseter is an engrossing communicator and his well-prepared commentary is worth hearing.
Also repeating from the previous Blu-ray release are four animated Pixar shorts and a “Cars Finder” game that might be fun for kids. The featurettes and deleted scenes that are part of the “Cine-Explore” mode are also available for viewing on their own. The package also includes Cars on a standard DVD and a digital copy.
With supporting roles voiced by NASCAR legend Richard Petty, George Carlin, Cheech Marin, and Larry the Cable Guy, Cars is an inventive, sleek, but ultimately warmly nostalgic film that has something for all ages. The 3D conversion works very well, making this new edition well worth the investment for those who love the film but want that extra razzle-dazzle the third dimension adds.