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'Cars on the Road' Review: Exceeding the Speed Limit
Friendly and weird, the series of short films stretches Pixar's motorized madness in new directions.
In my memory, Cars (2006) was the first meh Pixar title.
Their seventh theatrical release looked as good, or better, than their previous films, but it was hard to get excited about a film that just seemed to be about, well, talking cars. It felt to me like a subset of Toy Story. Its only saving grace was the vocal performance of a weary Paul Newman in his final film performance.
My memories of Cars 2 (2011) and Cars 3 (2017) are vague, at best, so I did not have high hopes for Cars on the Road, a new series devised by Brian Fee, who worked on the first two features as a storyboard artist and made his directorial debut on the third film. Thus, it's a surprise to me how much I enjoyed the series.
Back in 2017, Disney announced that a Monsters spin-off series was in development, intended for their forthcoming streaming service. Last year, Monsters at Work debuted on Disney Plus, featuring ten episodes, each running nearly 30 minutes, that keep to the factory environment. It was fine and featured some laughs, courtesy of Billy Crystal and John Goodman, especially, but it felt quite similar to Monsters and its sequel.
Another movie-to-TV series, Dug Days took the canine character from Up! and made him the lead, with Edward Asner reprising his role as the formerly cranky Carl. (Asner died three days before the series premiered.). Again, Bob Peterson's voice characterization was the comic highlight, but the series worked better because each of the episodes ran from 6-9 minutes. As short films, they were splendid and fit well into a busy adult's schedule.
Following that model enhances the appeal of Cars on the Road, consisting of nine episodes which each run 6-10 minutes. Owen Wilson and Larry The Cable Guy return as Lightning McQueen and Mater, respectively, and their comic chemistry remains intact. A few voices from the films return as well, along with Quinta Bronson (Abbot Elementary), who voices a key role.
As its title implies, the series is one road movie after another, which allows for a much greater variety of settings and backgrounds, from which the artists draw inspiration to expand the Cars universe much farther than it's been before. They also draw from some surprising influences, a few of which are decidedly adult-oriented. So while kids will likely enjoy the usual knockabout antics and cute, automotive references and puns, adults are more likely to appreciate the in-jokes, and how the "adult-oriented" influences are twisted in order to make them age-appropriate.
Even though it's nine episodes in total, don't worry that you need to watch them in order to fully enjoy them. (it's probably just insider-baseball, but the preview copies I watched were numbered incorrectly, which led to temporary confusion until I'd watched them all. I'm sure that will be corrected before the series debuts September 8. [Disney Plus]