Cars is actually one of my favourite Pixar films. I think they've gone a little off the boil lately, but Cars was one of their high points. I know that not everyone enjoyed it, but I was brought up watching motor racing, and I think that perhaps helped add to my enjoyment of the film.
Beyond that, I think the film scores because the limelight doesn't solely rest on its hero, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) for the whole film. At the start of Cars, Lightning is a successful racer, gunning to be the first rookie to win the Piston Cup. After a three-way tie finish, it's decided that the three racers will face each other in one final race to decide the winner. En route to California, Lightning ends up on the old route 66, where he finds himself in Radiator Springs, a sleepy town that got forgotten when the interstate took the traffic away. At first, Lightning hates it, but he grows to like the town, and its inhabitants, particularly Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). By the time he finally gets to leave, Lightning has begun to realise what it feels like to have friends.
It sounds like the kind of soppy, sentimental pap that I'd normally turn my nose up at, but somehow Cars manages to balance its message about teamwork and community with humour and motor racing, to the extent that it's become a favourite movie of mine. The graphics are astounding, and I remember my cinema companion even leaning across during the 'afternoon drive' sequence to mouth the word "Wow" as Sally and Lightning pass the waterfall.
Cars is a beautiful film, and I think its strength lies in its ensemble construction. Lightning is very much the hero, but if you removed any character, the film's strength would waver - which, in essence, simply reinforces the central message that community is key. In a fast paced world where we spend our lives dipping in and out of Twitter, choosing the quickest mode of transport to get us from A to B without truly seeing where we are, and where we often keep people around for what they can do for us, I guess it's an important idea that we sometimes slow down and admire the view with someone we actually like.