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Everyone knows that Pixar can’t do people. From Toy Story’s Andy to Monsters, Inc.’s Boo to, well, all of The Incredibles, the animation studio’s humans tend to look much less impressive than its Potato Heads, Scarers, and Omnidroid 9000s. So the fact that Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter’s latest, Cars, takes place in a world populated entirely by automobiles is a very good sign. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, easing up on the stoner drawl) is the cocky, narcissistic rookie on the stock-car circuit who’s just begging to be taken down a notch or two. And soon enough, he finds himself marooned in the teeny-tiny town of Radiator Springs, a roadside hot spot during the heyday of Route 66 that now receives visits only from those who’ve taken a wrong turn off the Interstate. Is the obnoxious city slicker going to be forced to reevaluate his priorities after some exposure to unspoiled country folk? You betcha—and those folk take the form of every stock character imaginable, albeit cheekily reduced to automotive stereotypes: George Carlin voices a VW bus as a burnt-out hippie, Cheech Marin is a Chicano lowrider, Larry the Cable Guy—who admirably restricts himself to just one “Git ’er done!”—is a dimwitted tow truck, and so on. Indeed, there are almost too many characters to keep track of, as if the filmmakers had been ordered to dream up more and more parts to attach celebrity voices to. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Lightning’s speed-talking Jewish agent, whom Jeremy Piven turns into a carbon copy of his Ari Gold character from Entourage. Happily, though, the film’s big sad-music-and-slo-mo montage isn’t about a character at all but about Route 66 itself. As a flashback to the pre-Interstate roadway unfolds, kandy-kolored love interest Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) laments, “It didn’t cut through the land—it moved with it.” And what a beautiful land it is, with rock formations resembling the fins of classic cars and vistas stretching into forever. Those visuals are, of course, extraordinary. But the real treat of this flawed yet charming film is watching Lightning’s transformation as he learns about friendship and compassion. It’s a change that doesn’t take place overnight and isn’t even close to complete by film’s end—which is a rarity in Hollywood movies, no matter how impressive the humans look. —Jason Powell