Cars may not be Pixar at the top of their game, but the animated sports comedy crosses the finish line with plenty of horsepower under the hood. The movie races to Ultra HD boasting a spiffy new paint job thanks to a lovely 4K HDR10 presentation and a satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but featuring the same bonuses as the Ultimate Collector's Blu-ray. Recommended for the whole family.
By the time Cars raced to theaters in 2006, Pixar had been cruising for a decade down a highway of thoughtful CGI-animated features since Toy Story, producing film after film that not only dazzled children with their visuals but also captured the imagination mature audiences with their unexpectedly weighty plots. This string of successes prompted the Walt Disney Company to purchase the studio that same year.
And so, as is often the case, it was inevitable a smooth, unhindered ride of box-office triumphs would eventually hit a bump in the road, which for me, was this story about a world populated by anthropomorphic vehicles. Admittedly, the last independently-produced Pixar movie is not terrible, as it follows the journey of a brash, cocksure racing rookie (Owen Wilson) discovering itself in the quaint, quiet town of Radiator Springs. But this road comedy was also not really the sort audiences had come to expect from the studio at that time. Borrowing heavily from the sports genre, the movie is much-too blatantly geared towards younger viewers while the plot ultimately feels pedestrian, hitting various generic tropes, and crossing the finish line without much surprise.
At the end of the day, however, Cars has some decent horsepower beneath the hood and for the most part, puts on a good show, enough for passengers to enjoy the sights and scenery out the window. Ultimately, the fuel driving this vehicle is a heartwarming nostalgia for the historic Route 66 and a wistful yearning for carefree driving, of hitting the road without a determined goal outside of simply escaping the hustle and bustle of modernity. It may not be one of Pixar's stronger features, but the movie is nonetheless a fun ride.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of the 2013 Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings Cars to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Disney Digital Copy. When redeeming said code via RedeemDigitalMovie.com or MoviesAnywhere, users have access to the 4K digital version in Dolby Vision HDR with Dolby Atmos on some streaming platforms. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc, which is identical to the 2013 Ultimate Collector's Edition but only contains the 2D version of the movie. Both are housed inside a black, eco-vortex case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a static screen where owners can choose between the start of the movie or look through the menu.
Cars races across the treacherous Ultra HD tracks with a sleek and glossy HEVC H.265 encode, showing a small but nonetheless welcomed boost over its Blu-ray competitor.
Riding into the scene from the same 2K digital intermediate garage, the upscaled transfer may not be much sharper than the HD version, but overall definition and resolution have their moments, revealing the minute, meticulous features of each vehicle and of the rock formations in the desert landscape. The lettering in McQueen's stickers and the town's various signs are legible, every rust, blemish, and imperfection on Mater is distinct, and the individual bricks of buildings can be perfectly counted. Unfortunately, the best moments are balanced with a few instances of moiré effects in Mack's front grill and mildly on the sides of buildings while the sharpest edges are sometimes distractingly ruined by aliasing.
The more appreciable modification on this 4K vehicle is the pristine, pitch-perfect contrast, allowing for remarkable visibility into the far distance and adding a bit of eye-popping realism to Radiator Springs. In fact, the quiet little western town has a slightly bleached-out effect to reflect the blistering heat of the day, showering the visuals with ecstatic, radiant whites in the fluffy clouds, the many decals of the cars and the various light fixtures at night. Specular highlights are not as impressive, but the hottest spots nonetheless display a crisper, tighter punch while the sun's rays glisten and bounce off the cars with a realistic gloss and glistening sparkle along the chrome trimmings. The 2160p picture also boasts luxurious, inky rich blacks throughout, displaying outstanding gradational differences between the various shades while maintaining outstanding clarity in the darkest corners. Viewers can plainly make out the finer details and characteristics in the background during the many nighttime sequences of the town, providing the 2.39:1 image with appreciable depth.
Being a Pixar movie, it shouldn't surprise anyone Cars benefits most from the heightened, wider color gamut, sporting a spiffy, stylish new paint job that's sure to dazzle the eyes. Granted, the boost is slight and more nuanced than other CG-animated flicks on UHD, but the HDR10 presentation boasts a deeper cherry red in McQueen, a vibrant fire-engine shade in Red, a glossy admiral blue in Doc Hudson, a metallic sapphire in Sally and a lively, energetic green in Chick Hicks. Secondary hues have also been touched up, as best exemplified by the various vehicles parading across the screen, from violet purples and ocean teals to arctic cyans and macaroon tans. The town is bathed warm yellows, fiery oranges, animated ambers and various earthy browns, most notably the rust, currant colors of Mater. (HDR10 Video Rating: 76/100)
Anthropomorphic vehicles speed into home theaters revving at full throttle thanks to a combustibly fun and spirited Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Comparatively, the track may not be quite the match to its two Blu-ray rivals for a photo finish, but it dispenses a fair and fierce competition. The opening race at the start, for example, showcases what's fueling this engine, as the boisterous cheers of the crowd, the snapping flashes of cameras and the announcer's voice fill the room, circling the listening area and convincingly echoing above. The big crash comes with cars flawlessly panning overhead and debris scattering in every direction. Radiator Springs is occasionally layered with the chirping of birds in the distance, bugs buzzing about or a helicopter circling in the sky.
The object-based track is really more of a front-heavy presentation with lots of attention and various effects spread across the screen, displaying excellent channel balance and fidelity. With plenty of background activity fluidly moving between the three front speakers and into the top heights, the soundstage continuously feels spacious and welcoming. The score is perhaps the most engaging and appreciable, nicely bleeding into the sides and the ceiling while exhibiting excellent distinction and detailed acoustics in the mid-range. Likewise, dialogue reproduction provides outstanding precision and intonation in every line. The low-end could arguably be stronger and more extensive given the visuals, but it nonetheless delivers a throaty and weighty response to the many action sequences. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 88/100)
The same collection of supplements from the 2013 Ultimate Collector's Edition are ported over for this UHD, but they are only available on the accompanying Blu-ray disc.
Pixar's Cars races to Ultra HD boasting a spiffy new paint job thanks to a lovely 4K HDR10 presentation and a satisfyingly engaging Dolby Atmos soundtrack, delivering several welcomed modifications over its Blu-ray counterpart. Porting over the same set of supplements, the overall UHD package is recommended for a fun movie night with the whole family.