Disney's recent track record with animated films is not at all good. Pixar, on the other hand, have turned out a long string of highly impressive offerings in the best tradition of Walt Disney - the two Toy Story films undoubtedly belong up there with the classic Disney cartoons of the past, and every one of Pixar's film has been better than any of Disney's own efforts in the last dozen or so years. Hence Disney's decision to acquire Pixar and put John Lasseter in charge of all their animation.
Unfortunately Cars does not live up to the very high standards set by Pixar. Not that's it bad, just that it isn't as good as Toy Story, The Incredibles and the rest.
In many ways, it is Pixar's most ambitious film so far. Whereas Toy Story, Bugs Life and even The Incredibles were about small groups (of toys, bugs, fish, superheroes) operating within the human world, here we have no humans at all. Cars (and other vehicles) are the only characters, though within a familiar landscape. It's also much longer than usual, at around 2 hours.
Visually it is impressive, and the attention to detail is amazing. There are countless small jokes hidden away, but more good gags would have helped, and they really should have spent more time on the plot. Pixar movies usually offer adventure, excitement, and surprises along the way, but this one is disappointingly flat.
I suppose the racing sequences are intended to provide the excitement, but sadly they are dull and add little to the storyline.
Tellingly, the funniest part of the movie comes right at the end, with a replay of some classic Pixar scenes - with cars playing characters such as Buzz and Woody. One might have hoped that John Lasseter would have taken the hint and realized what was wrong with Cars. He could have cut out most of the racing scenes, added some signs of human life and a villain or two, and given us a few more decent gags. Too long, and too clever by half, I fear.
Having said of all that, it's not a bad film, and I'm sure kids will love it. The animation is superb, there are some interesting characters, and the film does manage to evoke small-town America from years gone by. It also has a timeless quality that is lacking in animation from Dreamworks and others, but at least they would have given us more gags.