Oscars 2007
Animation Superstars
© 2006 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Terrence Briggs · February 25, 2007 | Defending the nominees for Best Animated Feature Film isn't as hard this year. All three nominees feature accomplishments that outweigh their most glaring flaws. The films share the familiar, family-friendly buoyancy typical of American animated filmmaking, but that familiarity shouldn't overshadow their unique achievements.

Cars is a tricked-out ride with a poky, four-cylinder narrative engine: a scenic drive through a run of the mill. Director John Lasseter is a proven animation genius with an eye and ear for the classic American style. Like the old masters of Termite Terrace, he knows how to sex up a routine story with colourful interplay, a solid radio play, and a jillion comic surprises. Like a classic Disney film, he creates beauty in the gorgeously painted backgrounds and lively characters in the foreground.

Directed by John Lasseter; co-directed by Joe Ranft
Animation production by Pixar Animation Studios
Walt Disney Pictures, 2006
116 minutes

Happy Feet
Directed by George Miller
Animation production by Animal Logic
Warner Bros. Pictures, 2006
108 minutes

Monster House
Directed by Gil Kenan
Animation production by Sony Pictures Animation
Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2006
91 minutes

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Read more about Cars
Those characters were Cars' greatest ambition, as well as its greatest achievement. Pixar's animators knew exactly how to expand on Harvey Williams's brilliant Benny the Cab in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Of course, Benny was just a supporting character in that film of humans and anthropomorphic toons. For a film where every living thing is mechanical, the animators needed variety and familiarity. Those polished Porsches, peppy mini-coupes, rusty tow trucks, and gruff-grilled roadsters ooze more personality than I thought possible. On repeat viewings, animation lovers must study the drowsy eighteen-wheelers, the loose-toothed tow truck, and the bovine tractors. Adult animatophiles on the lookout for subversiveness should dig the pinstripe just above a car's trunk, and the twin sport coupes who "flash" the celebrity hero. We're way beyond the "soldiers in silicon suits" school of animated robotics that made Transformers such a hit.

Plot? Well, you could always watch the Ghost in the Shell movies. I guarantee they won't be as vibrant as Cars, however. Oshii's films are boxy wagons that run on vegetables (and need whole grains). Lasseter's films are fruit-filled love machines. Cars may not have the pep of Pixar's older models, but it still has their zippy craftsmanship.
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