Pixar strikes gold once again with "Cars". It is a wonderfully imaginative film. Filled with just the right amount of nostalgia and sentimentality to win over audiences of all ages. "Cars" was initially slated for a November 2005 release, but according to Pixar; was held back for the more profitable summer movie season. Now each time a film is delayed usually spells trouble. That, combined with a lackluster marketing campaign and uninspired preview trailers had me convinced Pixar had finally taken a step back. I am pleased to report that is not the case. They clearly made the right decision to wait for a summer release. "Cars" is easily the best animated film of the year so far, and should fill the studio coffers quite nicely.

The story takes place in a world of cars where racing is the ultimate sport. Young hotshot, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), has come to an improbable tie in "The Piston Cup 500" with old favorite, The King (Richard Petty), and the dastardly Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton). A second race is scheduled a week later in Los Angeles to decide who will be the champion and win the coveted "Dinoco" sponsorship. Lightning McQueen, all ego and arrogance, races to reach LA first. Through a stroke of bad luck, he ends up on the wrong side of the law in the small desert town of Radiator Springs. The judge, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), has given him the task of re-paving the main road or go to jail and miss the race.

Lightning at first curses Radiator Springs and its motley collection of backwoods hillbillies. But changes his tune when he meets the beautiful Porsche, Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), and the goofy old tow truck, Mater (Larry the cable guy). He's beginning to understand true friendship when another startling discovery takes place. Doc Hudson is actually the legendary "Hudson Hornet", winner of the most Piston Cups and the greatest racer of all time. The town of Radiator Springs and its citizens take on a whole new meaning to the brash young racecar.

"Cars" greatest achievement is its emotional complexity. It is an allegory about values. The film teaches lessons about friendship, respecting the elderly, and embracing others who are different. It accomplishes this goal without any sappiness or melodrama. Lightning McQueen learns about the important things in life and the audience is with him on his journey. Animated films are always geared to children, but many of them have really lost sight of the opportunity to teach them something. "Cars" has a message, and delivers it brilliantly.

Creativity is boundless in animation. The filmmakers embraced a machine that defines our society and spun it into a world of its own. Each vehicle, every background in "Cars" is simply breathtaking. We race through the desert, mountains, cities; all artfully imagined and spectacularly done. I've come to expect amazing sound and visual effects in these big-budget animated films. Technology is always progressing, so in turn, these films should reflect that progress. But it's rare to see anything truly creative and different. Pixar proves again that they've got the magic formula; that they have the ability to be consistently imaginative and the common sense not to spoil it during the production process.

"Cars" is very funny and has a lot of hidden gems that only the adults, if they're clever, will pick up. The screenwriters were smart enough to embrace the popularity of racing, but also poke good fun of the average racing fan. The RV's in the middle of the racetrack are absolutely hilarious. "Cars" is not to be missed this weekend.

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