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Cars, Monster House

CARS (2006). Ever since Pixar Animation Studios began its incredible run with Toy Story back in 1995, haven't most observers been wondering when the company would hit a critical and/or commercial roadblock and watch its latest effort crash and burn? It certainly didn't happen with the acclaimed Cars, which trails only the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel as the year's top moneymaker. The storyline's a little hoary: A big-city slicker learns to slow down and smell the flowers -- or, in this case, the diesel -- in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Doc Hollywood, for starters, has been there, done that. But the picture's six scripters expand the parameters of this plot description to make an entertaining and even poignant tale about the lure of the open road and the passing of a quaint chapter in modern American history. That race car Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) will find redemption in the small town of Radiator Springs (populated by vehicles played by, among others, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin and Larry the Cable Guy) is never in doubt, but like the best storytellers, Pixar guru John Lasseter and his co-writers make the journey to self-discovery as interesting as possible. For all its high-gloss NASCAR trappings, Cars is ultimately a paean to Route 66. DVD extras include deleted scenes, an interview with Lasseter in which he discusses his inspiration for the film, the Oscar-nominated animated short One Man Band, and a new cartoon, Mater and the Ghostlight.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: ***

MONSTER HOUSE (2006). Young DJ realizes that something's not right with the creepy house across the street; suspecting it's possessed by an evil spirit, he sets out to uncover its secrets. This animated adventure harkens back to the fantasy flicks of the 1980s, movies in which children leading sheltered suburban existences had to cope with supernatural terrors that lurked around every corner and often under the bed -- it's no coincidence that the era's leading practitioners of this sort of unpretentious fun, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, serve as executive producers. And as with many of the 80s titles, there's more here than meets the eye, as what appears to be a straightforward haunted house tale morphs into a haunting tale about love, retribution and acceptance, complete with a back story that's both affecting and unexpected. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Gil Kenan, seven making-of featurettes, and a photo gallery.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

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