"I... am speed."
Cars, the first film in the Cars franchise, centers around Lightning McQueen, an arrogant up-and-coming hotshot stock car racer whose only driving concern is winning. The film opens with McQueen vying for the Piston Cup, a coveted prize which assures the winner of a lucrative sponsorship. Despite a valiant effort, McQueen ends up in a three-way tie with retiring racing veteran Strip "The King" Weathers and perennial runner-up Chick Hicks. A tie-breaking race is scheduled a week later in California, and McQueen urges his driver Mack to get them there immediately.
Along the way, McQueen gets lost, ending up in Radiator Springs, a quiet rural town in a forgotten segment of Route 66. After accidentally tearing up the town's main road, McQueen is sentenced to repairing it as community service. As he toils to finish his service and get to California, McQueen makes friends with the locals, including Tow Mater and former big-city hotshot Sally Carrera, and learns that there's a lot more to life than just racing to the finish line.
- Acting Unnatural: Lightning McQueen wants to surprise Sally with his new look.
Mater: Here she comes!
- Actor Allusion: During the Credits Montage, Mack (voiced by John Ratzenberger) is watching Cars-universe versions of Pixar movies, and initially praises the voice actor for |Hamm Truck and the Abominable Snowplow (John Ratzenberger) ... but by the time A Bug's Life rolls around, he realizes they're just reusing the same voice actor and criticizes them for it.
- The King is voiced by Richard Petty, and is also modelled and painted after Petty's 1970 Plymouth Superbird. He is described as having won seven Piston Cups - which is also the number of Winston Cup Championships that Petty won in his racing career (he is also the only seven time winner of the Daytona 500). And his wreck at the end of the film appears to be nod back to Petty's wreck in the 1988 Daytona 500.
- In the US version, Jeremy Piven is the voice of McQueen's agent Harv. Piven is known for his role as Hollywood superagent Ari Gold on the HBO series Entourage. Meanwhile, the UK version uses Jeremy Clarkson, known for his part in the BBC series Top Gear.
- Don't forget Mater's "I don't care who you are, that's funny right there", and "Git-r-done!", both of which are Larry the Cable Guy's Catchphrases. It's so much that Mater's Voice is actually credited as "Larry the Cable Guy", not "Daniel Whitney".
- Affectionate Nickname: Sally calls Lightning "Stickers"
- Analogy Backfire: "Oh, like you? You've been here for how long, and your friends don't even know who you are? Who's caring about only himself?!"
Sally: You called them?
- Assumed Win: Subverted - After the race in the beginning, McQueen assumes he won the Piston Cup, and proceeds to make a big entrance... only to find out it was a tie.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Chick wins the Piston Cup, though is booed off the stage by the crowd due to him wrecking the King intentionally in the process.
- Big Bad: Doc Hudson, who is Chick's leader and boss. He looks after McQueen and makes sure he never leaves for the California Race.
- Bizarrchitecture: The Cozy Cone motel, which is based on a real motel, the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. Each room in that motel is modeled after Indian Teepees.
- Blue Eyes: Doc Hudson's eyes were deliberately designed to resemble his voice actor Paul Newman's.
- Broken Pedestal: the Hudson Hornet, a.k.a. Doc for McQueen.
- The Cameo: No prizes for guessing who Michael Schumacher Ferrari and Jay Limo are voiced by...
- Tom and Ray have a cameo as well.
- And some obscure politician guy from California.
- As does frequent NBC Sports host Bob Costas. And fellow announcer Darrell Waltrip.
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. makes a brief appearance voicing the #8 Chevrolet he drove from 1999 to 2007 in the Sprint Cup Series, sans Budweiser stickers (to avoid advertising alcohol), which are replaced by DEI stickers (reflecting Earnhardt, Jr.'s team before his move to Hendrick Motorsports).
- Calling the Old Man Out: Sally does a very short one after she finds out that Doc called the press about where Lightning was to get him out of Radiator Springs. Turns out to be an Ironic Echo when she asks if it was the benefit of everyone else in the town, or just for him, as Lightning did.
- Cassandra Truth: No one believes McQueen at first about Doc being a former race car star.
- Chekhov's Gag: While chasing Lightning near the beginning, Sheriff muses that he might bust a gasket at the speed he's going. When Lightning busts into Doc's office later in the film, Sheriff is in there, probably for said busted gasket.
- Chekhov's Skill: McQueen learns drifting and backwards driving from Doc and Mater, respectively. They naturally surprise and shock Chick Hicks.
- Chromatic Arrangement: Subverted. When the three main racecars are introduced at the start, it starts with The King (blue), then Chick (green), and finally Lightning (red).
- Classic Villain: Chick Hicks is the Envy and Pride version of this combined with Arrogant Kung Fu Guy. In the beginning of Cars, he's simply a slightly darker copy of McQueen's own flaws. By the end of the movie, however, McQueen's Character Development makes them complete opposites, highlighting how much McQueen has matured. Hicks demonstrates what McQueen could have been if he hadn't ended up in Radiator Springs.
- Cool Old Guy: Doc Hudson, after his Heel-Face Turn.
- Credits Montage
- Crusading Lawyer: Sally's impassioned arguments in traffic court seem to focus more on idealistic concerns about the future of the town than on specific legal intricacies of Arizona highway code.
- Different World, Different Movies: The car-ified versions of earlier Pixar movies appear in the end credits.
- Directionless Driver: Minny and Van, the lost tourists who wander through Radiator Springs. Van, the husband, sternly refuses to ask for directions; The Stinger: after the credits shows them still lost in the desert, exhausted and delirious.
- The sequel shows that they found their way out.
- Dirty Old Woman: Lizzie, who slaps bumper stickers on strangers and ogles McQueen.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: After the race in the film's beginning, Mia and Tia, two fans of Lightning come up and "flash" their "headlights" at him, much the way groupies will flash people in real life.
- The Dragon: Chick Hicks becomes the true secondary antagonist of the movie and Doc's henchman. This means Doc is the mastermind of the whole Chick-era problem.
- Also the scene where Mack struggles to stay awake on the highway may seem familiar to many truckers, or motorists who have driven long distances in the dark.
- Don't Explain the Joke: Lightning's description of the Cozy Cone.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sarge does this during the end credits montage when he runs a boot camp for pampered SUVs.
"A-TEN-HUT! Kiss the pavement goodbye, gentlemen! When I'm finished with you, you'll have mud in places you didn't know you had."
- Driving Into a Truck: At the beginning of the film, this is where Lightning lives.
- Dying Town: According to Sally, Radiator Springs was once vibrant. After bypass road I-40 misses the town by twenty-five miles to save a bit of driving time, a flashback shows Radiator Springs (in what looks to be Peach Springs's real location on Arizona 66) literally vanish from the map... until the ending.
- Efficient Displacement: Lightning leaves a himself-shaped hole in the smoke when he leaps over the wreckage during the first race.
- Embarrassing Tattoo: Sally has one.
- Fish Out of Water: McQueen.
- Five-Bad Band: The Chick-era team:
- Five-Man Band: After Radiator Springs' Heel Face Turn:
- Funny Background Event: When McQueen gets shoved up on stage, someone in the back yells "Freebird!" at him.
- Furry Confusion: Bessie.
- Gentle Giant: Red, the huge fire truck who is very quiet and is seen taking care of his flowers most of the time. The character was to be voiced by the late Joe Ranft, who was never replaced.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar
Lightning McQueen: He's got three Piston Cups!
- Let's not forget Sally's Tramp Stamp.
- Or Mia and Tia's "flashing headlights".
- This little exchange:
Lightning: Well, you see, race cars don't need headlights, because the race track is always lit.
- Mater would give his two left lugnuts to work with Bessie.
- Mater joking that "she just wants me for my body" is even in the trailer.
- One of the race fans is holding a sign that says "Honk If Your Horn Works".
- Guido the forklift's version of flipping the birdie to the forklifts of Hicks' pit crew is to lift up one of his forks.
- "Is it true he's going to pose for Cargirl?"
- "The Sixties weren't very good to you, eh son?"
- This could also count as stealth puns, but in one deleted scene, the Top Down Truck Stop sign displays the slogan "all convertible waitresses". The reference to toplessness is not fully removed from the final version, but becomes only very briefly visible at drive-by speed.
- "Oh, for the love of Chrysler..."
- When McQueen bursts into Doc's office, he finds the sheriff in a compromising position with as Doc examines his underbelly.
Sheriff: Gettin' a good peek, city boy?
- Gilligan Cut: While they're heading for California, Lightning McQueen promises to Mack that he'll keep him awake all night long by talking to him so he can keep driving. Cuts to McQueen sleeping soundly in the trailer.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: Mater's "Holy shoot!"
- Hanging Judge: Doc Hudson if his opening speech is anything to go by.
- Hey, It's That Voice!: Lampshaded in the credits - John Ratzenberger, who's been in every single Pixar film to date, plays Mack. During the end credits, Mack goes to a drive-in featuring car versions of Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and A Bug's Life. Mack praises the John Ratzenberger characters at first, until he realizes...
- Hero Antagonist: The King. Though he was one of Lightning's opponents, The King treats him fairly and respectfully.
- Heel Face Turn:
- All of the Radiator Springs residents, with the exception of Doc, have one at the film's climax while reuniting with McQueen the day before the race.
- Chick Hicks performs this at the end of the film when he is the first car to reach the finish line.
- Heel Face Revolving Door: Chick reforms by winning the last race, but gets booed by the crowd and quits his job as a Piston Cup racer, foreshadowing his appearance in Cars 3.
- Heel Realization: Near the end of the film, Doc Hudson redeems himself by encouraging McQueen to win the race.
- I Am the Trope: Lightning's Catch Phrase - "I am speed."
- I Never Told You My Name: Oh, Fred.
- In Memoriam: This film was dedicated to Joe Ranft, a prominent Pixar animator and voice actor (e.g. Heimlich in A Bug's Life) who died in a car accident in 2005. Corpse Bride was also dedicated to Ranft. An "in memoriam" to Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) appears in the sequel.
- Jerkass: Lightning McQueen starts out as one, but becomes likable by the end of the movie.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lightning.
- Karmic Death: Done figuratively in the first movie. In the end, Chick Hicks wins the Piston Cup, but in doing so his Pride, Wrath, and Ambition have revealed him to be a poor sport to the rest of the world. His career dies a metaphoric -- yet very karmic -- death as a result.
- Leno Device: Jay Leno, as the voice of a car version of himself named Jay Limo, does a Tonight Show monologue about McQueen.
Jay Limo: I don't know what's harder to find: Lightning McQueen, or a crew chief who'll work with him!
- Meaningful Echo: "It's just an empty cup."
- The Mockbuster: "Little Cars", by the infamous Video Brinquedo.
- Mood Whiplash/Nightmare Fuel: The King's crash at the end of the movie is an exact recreation of Richard Petty's horrific 1988 Daytona 500 crash. Think about how terrifying that scene had be in real life. With a human driver in the car.
- And Richard Petty voices The King. Wow.
- My Name Is Not Durwood:
Lightning: Adios, Chuck!
- Thanks to the gratuitous amount of merchandising generated by the film, we even get a toy of the forklift...who is named "My Name is not Chuck" on the packaging!
- The character was also listed in the cast credits as "Not Chuck".
- Never Got to Say Goodbye: Mater never gets a chance to say goodbye to Lightning - until later at the race, anyway.
Doc Hudson: Well, I didn't have a choice. Mater didn't get to say goodbye.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed
- "The King" Strip Weathers is voiced by none other than Richard Petty himself.
- Weathers' wife is voiced by Petty's wife Linda, and her character is modeled off of the Station Wagon the Petty family used to drive from race to race.
- Michael Schumacher Ferrari. Three guesses on who is the voice actor, but the last two won't count.
- NASCAR color commentator Darrell Waltrip and Bob Costas lend their voices to Piston Cup announcers Darrell Cartrip and Bob Cutlass. Waltrip even uses his signature catchphrase at the start of the tiebreaker race:
Darrell Cartrip: Boogity, Boogity, Boogity! Let's go racin', boys!
- Ever seen Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mario Andretti?
- Jeremy Clarkson as Harv, although only in the UK version.
- Not So Different: McQueen and Doc.
- Our Founder: Stanley Steamer, founder of Radiator Springs.
- Overdrive: A rare subversion of the "more speed always works" aspect of this trope appears in the beginning of Cars. McQueen gains a whole lap on Chick Hicks and The King by skipping several pit stops -- only to have both of his rear tires blow out in the final lap.
- Porn Stache: Chick Hicks' grill.
- Precision Swear Strike: "I'm in hillbilly hell" arguably counts; granted, the point a comparison to the place, but it's still unusually heavy language for a G-rated animated movie.
- Pyrrhic Villainy: Chick Hicks' wins the last race through a combination of cheating and Lightning's heartwarming last minute Honor Before Reason decision to help crippled The King finish the race. He is rewarded by being abandoned by his sponsor and jeered off the winner's podium complete with tomato-flinging.
- Reality Subtext: The King's crash is based, frame by frame, on an actual crash Richard Petty lived through in the Daytona 500.
- The character of Doc Hudson is largely based on 2-time NASCAR champion Herb Thomas, who, in fact, won his two titles in a Hudson Hornet. There are minor differences between the two, namely their ultimate fates, Doc Hudson is Thomas in car form.
- The Motor Speedway of the South is loosely modeled off of Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.
- Recycled in Space: Cars is Doc Hollywood WITH CARS!
- Second Place Is for Winners: Even though Lightning didn't win the race, he is lauded for his heroic rescue of "The King" and Chick Hicks is booed off the stage for being a jerkass.
- Self-Deprecation: In the credits sketches we see Mack (played by John Ratzenberger) criticizing the fact that Pixar is a low-budget operation that keeps "just using the same actor" (John Ratzenberger) in every movie.
"What kind of cut-rate production is this?!"
- Shout-Out: Like every Pixar movie, it contains references to other Pixar films (both short and feature-length).
- The name McQueen itself is a reference to Glenn McQueen, a senior animator on early Pixar films who died of cancer in 2002; Lightning is named as a tribute. The Pixar staff takes pains to point out that it wasn't, as is commonly thought, a reference to Steve McQueen, he of the famous car chases.
- Lightning himself uses |Lightyear Buzzard brand tires, and the Lightyear blimp can be seen at races. This one is a twofer: a hark back to Buzz Lightyear and an Incredibly Lame Pun on Goodyear Eagle tires. Additionally, the Dinoco brand is the name of the gas station Woody and Buzz get stuck at. And Lightning's number, #95, is a reference to the year Toy Story was released.
- Can't forget the Drive-In scene. I sure wonder how Toy Car Story, Monster Trucks, Inc. and A Bug's Life were received by car critics.
- One of the Piston Cup racers, Mac iCar, is sponsored by Apple Macintosh. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs was also one of the founders of Pixar. May also count as Product Placement.
- Near the end of the film, Luigi can be seen making fun of a clearly Italian-based car that is shorter and fatter than him. Whose grill apparently resembles a mustache.
- Shown Their Work: For a childish Disney cartoon about talking cars? Pixar got a lot of very small details right, down to the "marbles" – small, slippery bits of rubber left behind on the track as racing tires are made of softer rubber (for better traction at high speed) than street-legal tyres. And then there are all the Real Place Allusions, built from 1200 miles worth of research trips on the former US Route 66. The closing credits read like a Who's Who of both NASCAR and the Mother Road, with Oklahoma historian Michael Wallis (the voice of the "Sheriff" in Cars) as the resident US66 expert.
- Stock Scream : During Lightning's first dream sequence, the car that gets shredded gets a Wilhelm out.
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion/Curse Cut Short: The Rust-Eze rhyme.
Winter is a grand old time
- Toilet Humour: From the first movie:
Sally: Flo! What do you have at your store?
- And the tractor-tipping sequences.
- And the long lineups for the female washroom (and only the ladies') at the stadium for the first race
- And the branding "Butte Gas" on the pumps at the Wheel Well Motel. Apparently the target audience is about the right age for endless potty humour... as this continues with "lavatory services" in the cash-in sequel too.
- Tripod Terror: Lightning's action dream sequence.
- Unnecessary Roughness: Done repeatedly in Cars by Chick Hicks, who won't hesitate to slam other racers and cause a Big One to happen just to stop McQueen. We wonder why he never gets black-flagged for his tactics, even after causing a near-fatal crash for the retiring champion and winning the coveted Piston Cup championship. Well, except for screwing himself out of the Dinoco sponsorship and seriously pissing off the fans.
- This given that today, Chick could easily be compared to Kyle Busch.
- Unsportsmanlike Gloating: Chick again.