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Cars: Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) Review

Cars (2006) movie poster Cars

Theatrical Release: June 9, 2006 / Running Time: 116 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: John Lasseter / Co-Director: Joe Ranft / Writers: John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Jorgen Klubien (story & screenplay); Dan Fogelman, Kiel Murray, Phil Lorin (screenplay); Brenda Chapman (story); Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Steve Purcell, Dan Scanlon (additional story material)

Voice Cast: Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Paul Newman (Doc Hudson), Bonnie Hunt (Sally Carrera), Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), Cheech Marin (Ramone), Tony Shalhoub (Luigi), Guido Quaroni (Guido), Jenifer Lewis (Flo), Paul Dooley (Sarge), Michael Wallis (Sheriff), George Carlin (Fillmore), Katherine Helmond (Lizzie), John Ratzenberger (Mack), Joe Ranft (Red), Michael Keaton (Chick Hicks), Richard Petty (Strip "The King" Weathers), Jeremy Piven (Harv), Bob Costas (Bob Cutlass), Darrell Waltrip (Darrell Cartrip), Richard Kind (Van), Edie McClurg (Minny)

Buy Cars from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D Combo • Blu-ray + DVD • DVD • 11-Disc Director's Edition Set • Instant Video

As a merchandise brand, Cars is Pixar's most formidable. Last year alone, it generated $931 million in retail sales, trailing only Disney Princess, Star Wars, and Hello Kitty in the world of entertainment. That only adds to the $10 billion it brought in over its first five years of existence. As a film franchise, though, Cars is unquestionably the dimmest to date
from the pioneering and still creatively dominant computer animation studio. Admittedly, Monsters University only brought Pixar up to three franchises and in volume, Cars' only in-house comparison is Toy Story, the company beloved flagship series. But among the thinking general public, the name Cars is able to elicit groans as a commercial enterprise that does not jive with the quality first mantra that has so distinguished Pixar for its nearly twenty years in the world of feature films.

It's easy to chart the evolution of the Cars franchise in relation to its reputation. The series of Cars Toons shorts that began in the fall of 2008 with Toon Disney broadcasts seemed harmless enough. They centered on Mater the rusty, trusty tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. As a sidekick in the original film, the simple, country Mater was a lovable character and much-needed best friend to the hot shot race car Lightning McQueen stuck in a small town. Mater was also a tolerable hero in these five-minute doses which didn't rival Pixar's theatrical or home video shorts in impact. Then came Cars 2.

The first project at Pixar to prompt second-guessing by its very existence, Cars 2 would become only the studio's third sequel and the first outside the Toy Story universe. The film seemed tough to justify on an artistic level. Its predecessor had performed well at the box office domestically and less so overseas, where it offered a steep decline from Pixar's three globally popular prior releases. Critically, Cars was the studio's weakest work to date and though reviews were generally quite favorable, they were a far cry from the universal praise submitted to films like Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. Trailers and plot details for Cars 2 did not inspire confidence, but marketing had bred doubts over previous Pixar efforts, only to be removed by glowing release.

Flashbulbs pop all around as hot shot rookie race car Lightning McQueen soars, his tongue hanging out Michael Jordan-style in Disney/Pixar's original "Cars."

Cars 2 experienced no such thing, however. It is widely agreed upon to be Pixar's worst film to date by some margin. It's the studio's only film to draw more negative reviews than positive ones (and definitively so, with a rate of nearly 2 to 1) and the studio's only feature not nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar since the honor's 2001 inception. For that matter, it is Pixar's only film not nominated for any Academy Award whatsoever. Its disappointments did not stem purely from the fact that it was Pixar's first miss. This was a movie that would be deemed mediocre from any animation studio. Visually stunning, yes, but narratively, a wreck.

And why wouldn't it be? The sequel took everything that worked from the first film and threw it out the window. The small town setting that drew Doc Hollywood comparisons? Gone. The large cast of colorful locals? Reduced to periphery. A meaningful message about slowing down to enjoy life's ride? Replaced with international racing and a James Bond-esque espionage plot hedging on the concept of Mater being mistaken for a master spy. Though the first Cars had more detractors than most Pixar films, Cars 2's failings stung most for those who loved the first movie, a class I place myself in. And yet Cars 2 managed to give rise to a whole new crop of toys and merchandise adding to that lucrative revenue stream. Though this sequel sputtered at the domestic box office (the studio's only film to fall short of the $200 million mark there since the '90s), its pandering World Grand Prix plot and 3D status jump-started business abroad to respectable heights.

The brand took another hit over the summer with Planes, the theatrical launch of a spin-off series set "Above the World of Cars." Produced by DisneyToon Studios, whose résumé of direct-to-video sequels speaks louder than their pronounced increase in animation quality, Planes dumbed down the notion of talking vehicles even more and without clearly conveying to the general public that it wasn't a Pixar production. And yet with a worldwide gross of over $200 million on a budget of just $50 M, Planes is an undeniable commercial success, and its sequel scheduled for next summer promises more of the same.

All that makes it very easy to dislike Cars as a brand. Pixar is compromising their high artistic standards and they're getting ridiculously rich off it. Meanwhile, their revered Toy Story empire only features tenth on last year's Top 10 Licensed Entertainment/Character Properties list, its $530 million in revenue placing it behind the likes of Angry Birds and WWE.

Lightning McQueen is swiftly brought to justice in a Radiator Springs courtroom.

Still, I find it possible and not so difficult to dislike Cars the brand and maintain an appreciation for Cars the movie. While it didn't receive the instant masterpiece status of previous Pixar efforts, this film remains a highly appealing piece of entertainment and art.
Many, myself included, felt it was a more deserving winner of 2006's Best Animated Feature Oscar than Happy Feet, whose reputation has likewise been sullied by its own regrettable 2011 sequel. Subjecting Pixar's canon to annual reflection, an exercise next year's Pixar-less schedule will deprive us of, I currently rank the original Cars eighth out of the studio's 14 features. (Need I even tell you where Cars 2 ranks?) That standing is middle of the road and I'd be more apt to drop it two places than elevate it one, but this is Pixar we're talking about, where genius is in high supply. I consider most of their films either the best or one of the best of their respective years. That includes Cars, a film that had no shot of winning anything bigger than Best Animated Feature, but one that I would rather rewatch than just about everything else from a year that gave us the likes of The Departed, Borat, and Little Miss Sunshine.

The premise of an all-car universe is a little iffy. It doesn't stand up very well to thought and brings Pixar by far closer to toddler television than any of their typically high-minded other subjects. If you can accept that starting point, though, you'll discover an intelligent story, a large cast of compelling characters, state-of-the-art visuals, and plenty of rumination-worthy ideas that resonate in our human world. Upon its initial release, many put Cars a tier below previous Pixar movies. If nothing else, that ranking, which Cars 2 seemed to reinforce but which full canon revisitation reveals to be skewed by nostalgia, demonstrates just how incredible Pixar's contributions to modern cinema have been. A film clearly richer in characterization, ideas, and art than every film from every other animation studio formed in the past twenty years is considered among the worst that Pixar has to offer?! That Pixar sure must be a miracle factory.

Home video is not exempt from the ongoing Cars retail extravaganza. The film's original 2006 DVD sparked disappointment, following the expansive two-disc Collector's Editions given all of Pixar's previous films. The next fall brought a Blu-ray Disc that somewhat addressed the bonus feature shortage, though few were buying into the format at that point. Then, November 2009 brought the Ultimate Cars Gift Pack, a set pairing the DVD and the Blu-ray, along with two exclusive custom cars. The combo pack was still in its infancy back then. But a simple Blu-ray + DVD set arrived in April 2011 alongside The Incredibles' Blu-ray debut. When Cars 2 hit disc, its most expensive edition was an 11-disc Director's Edition that included all Blu-rays, DVDs, and digital copies for Cars, Cars 2, and Cars Toon: Mater's Tall Tales as well as a die-cast car of John Lassetire, a pit crew chief briefly seen in the sequel who's obviously voiced by director John Lasseter.

The cars of Radiator Springs have mixed feelings regarding Lightning McQueen's arrival and planned departure.

Now, when Monsters University made its disc debuts just ahead of Pixar's preferred home video month of November, a new Ultimate Collector's Edition of Cars joined it, consisting of a Blu-ray 3D, a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a downloadable digital copy. Its cover design in line with the most loaded recent releases of Finding Nemo, Brave,
300x250 Cars
Monsters, Inc., and Monsters U, this combo pack's main attraction is the Blu-ray 3D, a format the original Cars has never before appeared in. Presumably, Cars might have enjoyed a 3D theatrical reissue had the ones given to Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. at the end of 2012 not proven so lackluster. Instead the 3D version of Cars presents itself as yet another purchase from this commercial giant.

It does not appear to be all that difficult, expensive, or time-consuming to convert a three-dimensional computer animated film into a 3D film. An L.A. Times article from last December revealed that Monsters, Inc.'s conversion cost just $3 million. The same article quotes John Lasseter on the purpose of his studio's 3D conversions: "We're going through all of the Pixar titles just so we have them. I just like it, it's kind of cool. How we use it and how it plays in the marketplace? I don't know." Though that sounds like a questionable business model, Pixar's tremendous financial success makes the gamble minimal, especially when the costs of a theatrical release are removed. Although the lack of a theatrical release lowers public awareness levels, putting this in stores alongside Monsters University is an ingenuous way to get it noticed with little expense and effort.

The current three-dimensional computer animated Disney logo now precedes and concludes all versions of the film, the last released without it. Those and the addition of 3D credits (again, on all versions) are enough to bump the runtime of Pixar's longest film up to 117 minutes with ordinary rounding.

Watch a clip from Cars:

Cars: Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Blu-ray 3D + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.39:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (DVS); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Blu-ray Discs-only: English, French, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: October 29, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Three single-sided discs (2 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray + DVD and Blu-ray + DVD in DVD Packaging ($39.99 SRP; April 12, 2011); standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP; November 7, 2006); in 11-Disc Director's Edition Combo ($119.00 SRP; November 1, 2011); and on Instant Video
Previously released as Ultimate Cars Gift Pack BD + DVD + Cars (November 10, 2009), Blu-ray (November 6, 2007) and Full Screen Edition DVD (November 7, 2006)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Every Pixar film has been dazzling in its own right and done its part to advance computer animation. Arriving nineteen months after the studio's previous effort (The Incredibles), Cars certainly upped the art form's sophistication and cinematic power. Though its DVD upheld the high quality of a direct digital transfer, the higher resolution of Blu-ray offers a noticeably more vibrant and potent presentation. The conversion to 3D presumably means new transfers for all formats. In 3D or old-fashioned 2D, the 2.39:1 picture is a delight, full of color and awe-inspiring renderings of natural and automotive beauty.

It may sound like a blast from the past, a Pixar film in simply 5.1 channels, but Cars' Dolby TrueHD soundtrack fires on all cylinders. Its visceral impact is immediately felt in the high-powered race car scenes, but the sound design also impresses with plain old small town atmosphere when we get to Radiator Springs. Pop songs (a rare presence for Pixar), Randy Newman's score, a variety of sound effects, and the flawlessly crisp and full-bodied dialogue all come together in an appealing and engaging way.

This demonstration of Cine-Explore shows artwork and research photos being laid over the film in the Auto mode. Car Finder lets you try to spot hundreds of cars featured with any prominence in the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

All relegated to the 2D Blu-ray, the extras begin with a Games section that holds two listings each designed to enhance playback of the film.

"Cine-Explore" isn't so much a game as an enhanced viewing mode. It lets you choose between two audio commentaries, one by director John Lasseter and one by his production team. Lasseter talks about his lifelong appreciation for cars and determination to do right by it

in the details without losing sight of serving non-buffs with story and characters. He also recognizes voice actors, musical contributors, and the real-life inspirations for characters. If you switch the mode from "Manual" to "Auto", this also treats you to commentary-pertinent behind-the-scenes photos and artwork laid over the film. The automatic mode also leaves for documentary shorts and deleted scenes as they become relevant. It's a comprehensive making-of experience the likes of which have rarely been seen.

"Carfinder" lets you try to locate hundreds of cars in the film as they are first featured. It's a fun but frustrating exercise as it's tough to spot all the characters in the busy frames and match up to your changing five choices. Constant onscreen graphics keep track of your score (which selecting the wrong cars lowers and vice versa) and the number of cars you've missed. Spotting characters unlocks narrated biographies and a screenshot of their appearance. It's kind of overwhelming, especially since you can't use basic functions like pause and rewind. Certain busy and blurry shots are frozen while you're given time to identify the cars you're shown. When we hit Radiator Springs and the action slows, we're asked to pick the accurate version of characters over two with slight details changed. It's a challenge.

Overall, this is an ambitious activity that DVD could never have provided. You can even save and resume, with your missed car count resetting but the disc remembering your score and the characters you have and haven't unlocked. It's strange that features like this utilizing BD-exclusive technology are just about never found nowadays.

Mater is terrified by what he thinks is the "Ghostlight" in the made-for-DVD short "Mater and the Ghostlight." Two street musicians vie for one girl's coin in Pixar's Oscar-nominated short "One Man Band."

The remaining supplements are fittingly housed under Bonus Features. They start with two shorts.

Mater and the Ghostlight (7:09, HD), created for DVD, finds prankster Mater frightened by a scary story Sheriff tells him. It might be the last (and only) really good thing with Mater in the lead.

Next comes One Man Band (4:32, HD), Cars' Oscar-nominated theatrical accompaniment and a more typical Pixar short (a simple premise and no dialogue). This tale, which finds two street musicians in an Italian piazza competing for one young girl's only coin, has a European flavor that makes it better suited for the following year's Ratatouille. It's a fun cartoon.

"Epilogue" (4:19, HD) presents the end credits video bits, from satisfying character moments to the entertaining car recreations of Pixar films (and John Ratzenberger tribute), full-sized, in screen-filling 16:9.

Boundin' Cars" recreates a brief part of one of Pixar's best shorts with Mater as the jackalope and Lightning as the lamb. John Lasseter takes a photo of a Route 66 cafe for reference in "The Inspiration for 'Cars'."

"Boundin' Cars" (0:46, SD) recreates a part of Pixar's pre-Incredibles short Boundin' with Mater as he and Lightning watch in Radiator Springs' otherwise empty drive-in.

An early Disney Blu-ray staple, "Movie Showcase" (6:33, HD) simply plays four short partial scenes from the movie (the opening race crash, Lightning and Sally's scenic drive, Doc's desert moves, and the stellar "Sh-Boom" sequence) particularly well-suited to showcasing high definition picture and sound capabilities.

"The Inspiration for Cars" (16:02, SD) is a making-of featurette which explains how the film was very much born out of road trips and consultation with Route 66 expert Michael Wallis, who went on to voice Sheriff, and other automotive authorities.

Freshly separated from Mac, Lightning McQueen winds up at a truck stop in this deleted scene. Tony Shalhoub rocks the mic as the voice of Luigi in "Animation and Acting." Shalhoub!

Five deleted scenes (14:00, SD) are presented in animated story reel format, introduced vocally by Lasseter. They find Lightning being saddled with community service, getting separated from Mac at a truck stop, and having to attend driving school. In addition, Ramone shares the story of how he found love with a Motorama girl (Flo).

Finally, we get seven documentary shorts (35:52, SD) that have never made it to DVD. "Radiator Springs" spells out the history and nature of the town based on real locations off of Route 66. "Character Design" pays notice to the car designs. "Animation and Acting" looks at character animation and the voice work of Tony Shalhoub. "Real World Racing: Getting Geeky with the Details" discusses involving racing experts and drivers in the production.
"Hudson Hornet" considers the character of Doc Hudson and having Paul Newman voice him. "Graphics" celebrates the countless graphics created and products conceived for the film "Darrell Waltrip Museum Tour" finds the NASCAR driver turned racing commentator and Cars voice actor giving a wide-eyed John Lasseter a look at the many cars he has.

Not changed aside from its sneak peeks, the Cars DVD still includes Mater and the Ghostlight, One Man Band, the epilogue, the Boundin' bit (as an Easter egg), four of the five deleted scenes, and "The Inspiration for Cars." It remains disappointing, but less so compared to the pittance that today's Pixar movies have to settle for on DVD.

The updated Blu-ray and DVD open with trailers for Frozen, The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition, and Planes. The DVD's additional Sneak Peeks promote Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, and Monsters University, while the Blu-ray adds further ones for Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United and Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition.

This striking nighttime view of Radiator Springs' neon lights functions as the top menu on the new Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D.

The DVD recycles itself creative animated menus, rounding the race track with Lightning McQueen. The Blu-rays' simpler, tasteful new top menu shows Radiator Springs and its blinking and fixed neon lights at night. Of course, the Blu-rays do not resume playback, just like today's Disney discs do not.

Topped by an embossed, silver-bordered slipcover, the three discs (each sporting new full-color labels and 2013 copyright dates) share a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a Disney Movie Rewards/digital copy code insert and a Disney Movie Club ad.

Lightning McQueen shares a scenic drive around Radiator Springs with the blue Porsche named Sally.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though I'm not crazy about what's followed it, I maintain that Cars is a great film offering Pixar's patented blend of top-notch storytelling and artistic animation. It's a movie that belongs in your collection, but just once.

This new Ultimate Collector's edition will appeal to fans of Blu-ray 3D and digital copies. If those formats are not something you care about and you do not see any allure in trying to put together a complete collection of silver-bordered Pixar UCEs, you'll get what you want for $10 less in this two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. The wealth of Blu-ray bonus material compensates for the lightweight DVD the movie ludicrously had to settle for.

Buy Cars from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D Combo / Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / 11-Disc Director's Edition / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Monsters University • Gravity Falls: Six Strange Tales • The Little Mermaid • The Croods
Cars 2 • Brave • Finding Nemo • The Incredibles • Monsters, Inc. • Toy Story 3 • Up • Ratatouille
Pixar Shorts, Volume 1 • Pixar Shorts, Volume 2 • Epic • Escape from Planet Earth
Night at the Museum • Howl's Moving Castle • Marmaduke • The Wild

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Reviewed November 1, 2013.



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