Cars: Route 66 Chili

Year Released: 2006
Directed by: John Lasseter
Starring: Voices by Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy
(G, 116 min.)

"I am not bound to win; I am bound to be true." Abraham Lincoln

This razzle-dazzle racing epic is fine family fun, though it seems more geared to NASCAR dads than the tots they may take with them to the theatre. The little ones will love the racing scenes, and while the nostalgic tribute to the old Route 66 sandwiched in between them is a bit too long, it’s sure to please any grandparents in the audience.

The story is a sweet one, gentle wisdom peppered with down-home humor. Lightning McQueen, a hot shot racing car caught up in sudden fame and glory, finds his way by losing it as he stumbles into sleepy Radiator Junction, a town that time forgot along with the legendary byway, Route 66. There he meets such nostalgic characters as Larry the Cable Guy’s “Aw Shucks” tow truck Mater. (I didn’t get the joke until someone else pointed out that his name then is “Tow Mater,” a Gomer Pyle label for the juicy red fruit if I ever I heard one.)

Paul Newman, still driving race cars as an octogenarian, gives depth and dignity to Doc Hudson, a 1951 Dodge Hornet, who has a secret behind his curmudgeon chrome. You can tell that Cheech Marin is having a great time as Ramon, the low rider, while Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliossi – either that or some very good impersonators -- continue to make us laugh as Mcqueen’s Rust-Eze sponsor/ spokesmen.

And George Carlin is perfect as the psychedelic VW Van who sells organic gasoline. Bonnie Hunt’s shiny Porsche, an L.A. attorney now enjoying life in the slow lane, pun intended, is a love interest reminiscent of Julie Warner’s Lou in the 1991 Doc Hollywood starring Michael J. Fox. In fact, come to think of it, the whole story line of Cars is very much an animated version of this comedy/romance, Doc Hollywood, however, being the better film.

Of course, the running joke throughout Cars is that the entire movie is “peopled” entirely by automobiles. Thus you have sedans overflowing the stands and RV’s the parking lots during the big race, hot rods purchasing their own tires and gasoline, and even twin groupies in steel and chrome to complete the scene.

Cars has a few things working against it, however, one of the most lethal being the high standards set by such past Pixar classics as A bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and of course, Finding Nemo. Another is the blatant commercialism and hype devoted to it, not the least of which is the AT & T/ SBC conglomerate which has somehow attached itself to the Cars debut like bugs on a windshield. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that the merger of the two lumbering communication giants lacks real momentum, and they hope to get their engines revved up with young Lightning McQueen, who flashes his shiny red grin from cover to cover on brochures advertising their digital cable packages. Though how a stuck-on-himself racecar and the telephone company jibe, I cannot begin to tell you.

The rebirth and staggering success of animation began, I think, with Disney’s Aladdin, which threw in all sorts of sly allusions for the adults while the children’s story line rushed forward without missing a beat. And that has been the case with a long line of box office animation superstars that followed. Kind of like The Wizard Of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, or the more recent Hobbit trilogy, stories that fascinated children while they engaged adults by resonating at a deeper level. The key is that all two or three levels have to work simultaneously without getting in each other’s way.

In Cars, instead of the gears all working together in a fine super machine like the wonderful mechanism behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, we shift delicately from one to another like an Italian racer. Gram, my three-year-old grandson, for instance, crawled onto my lap and was sleepy-eyed throughout Lightning’s stay in Radiator Springs, only moving back to his seat for the final race scene. Since this was my Grandma debut, the first time I took him to a show, I promised I would put some of his “critical comments” in my review.

Okay, I know it. That’s asking a lot for a just turned three-year-old, but forgive a doting grandmother. “Cars race” was all that I could get out of him at first. Sometimes it was more of a question or kind of pleading as we bogged down in Radiator Springs. More recently, the Peter Pan buff said to his mother, “It’s not Captain Hook,” which is a little like the late Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” put down to Dan Quayle in the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate.

In contrast, when he was only two, we could always pop in the DVD of Finding Nemo to get him over any terrible two shenanigans, and even I did not mind watching the fish odyssey over and over. Not to stretch the point, but Nemo was a little like Shakespeare; each time I revisited it I discovered more depth.

I don’t think that is the case with Cars, though. Like its little hotrods going round and round endless laps, it gets one a bit dizzy and groggy, and those laps are repetitive enough already. In fact, like the racing engines, you may need at least one pit stop to get yourself through the almost two hour time frame.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Gasoline, organic or otherwise, is about all they guzzle in Cars, but I wouldn’t recommend even Filmore’s preferred mixture to you. I can, however, give you an authentic Route 66 Chile Recipe, spicy with poblano chilies, injected with amber ale, and garnished with sour cream and green onions.

And I’ll slip the secret but not recommend what some Texas Chili Cook Off winners have divulged as their secret ingredient: radiator water. Certainly an appropriate addition, given Lightning’s sojourn in Good Ol’ Radiator Springs, but seriously don’t fall for this obvious tall tale from Texas. As you may or may not know, anti-freeze is highly toxic.

Route 66 Chili 

You may want to check out the other Route 66 Chile Recipe on the link below as well. While this recipe has the rather uppity “amber ale,” the other features a 12 oz. Bottle of “stale Mexican Beer.” 

And all true Texans would recommend nixing the beans. Kathy

  • 3 pounds trimmed boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • All purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 poblano chilies, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 19-ounce cans enchilada sauce
  • 1 12-ounce bottle amber ale
  • 1 7-ounce can diced green chilies
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • Sour cream
  • Sliced green onions

Dredge pork in flour to coat; shake off excess. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add pork and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to large bowl.

Add remaining 1/4 cup olive oil to same pot. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add poblano chilies and garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Mix in pork, diced tomatoes with their juice, enchilada sauce, ale, diced green chilies, cumin and chili powder. Simmer until meat is tender and chili thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Serve chili with sour cream and sliced green onions.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe Source: Flavors of the Mother Road