Cars

2006, Pixar/Walt Disney

Arriving after a long string of brilliant successes, Cars wasn't up to their usual lofty standard, but it's still a quality ride. The automotive-themed gags border on being excessive, while the story fails to deliver the emotional payback one comes to expect from the studio. Granted, since I'm not a racing enthusiast, I wasn't drawn to the theme, and some of its humor was probably lost on me. But at least the animation was top-notch, as one would expect, so it's more than satisfying for CGI junkies.

     

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Cars 2

2011, Pixar/Walt Disney

How did Pixar ever green-light this turd? It's difficult to find anything worthwhile here: the uninspiring story was matched by uninspiring animation. Usually Pixar will find ways to build upon prior releases, at the very least offering some groundbreaking new visual effects, but the result this time was more like technicolor vomit; evidently their staff hit cruise control while the studio was running on fumes (abusing automotive-related gags just as Pixar had). Skip this one and proceed directly to Cars 3—you'll be glad you did.

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Cars 3

2017, Pixar/Walt Disney

In the making-of docs, Pixar acknowledged Cars 2 was a misfire. The docs also reveal the renewed effort they invested in the story this time, and it shows: they not only rescued the franchise, but actually improved upon it. My age and life experiences likely contribute to how the story resonated with me; regardless, Cars 3 represents a thunderous return to form for Pixar. Supporting a terrific story, however, is some of the very finest CGI animation I've seen—and I'm quite close to having seen it all. Pixar has taken effects and rendering to a whole new level. Most astonishing is the sequence at the ghost track: the dust, dirt, gravel and mud are breathtaking, and I recall inhaling reflexively as the cars are reflected in a puddle as they speed past, the air behind them subtly ripping the water. The visuals alone are awesome; with a superior-quality story behind them, this has become an all-time favorite for me—even if the critics don't agree it's the best of the bunch.

       

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Planes

2013, Walt Disney Pictures

Obviously capitalizing on the premise of Pixar's Cars, Disney spun off a film about talking aircraft. In the eyes of most babysitting adults looking for something to hold their interest, the results never got off the ground (ahem). Of course, being a "cartoon," one may question the point since the target audience is not about to debate a film's technical or aesthetic qualities; as long as the tykes are entertained, who cares if it fails to sustain the interest of their parents?

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Planes Fire & Rescue

2014, Walt Disney Pictures

Once again, Disney returned to a tainted well for some quick cash, leaving us adults feeling fleeced. After the dismal Planes, one might have thought they'd want to avoid making the same mistake twice, but no... anyway, it's not the first time Disney dropped a turd just to make a buck, and likely won't be the last.

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