As much as Pixar Animation is made out to be a haven for artistic creation, it is, like any other business (especially those owned by Dsney) also about making money. And few things have made money like 'Cars,' the studio's 2006 film. Not that it made a whole lot at the box office because, by those standards, it's actually one of the less successful films in the studio's history. No. Where 'Cars' brings in the dough is through merchandising – literally billions of dollars are spent every year on 'Cars' related merchandise.
This goes a long way in explaining why there's a 'Cars 2' coming next summer (because, really, there was so much left unexplored about the world of anthropomorphic vehicles) and why, in 2012, a whole new "land" will be unveiled at Disney's California Adventure theme park, dedicated to the world of 'Cars.'
So to stoke the fires between the first film and the second, and to keep the merchandising revenue river flowing, Disney and Pixar set about to create a series of short films featuring the 'Cars' characters, entitled 'Mater's Tall Tales.' These shorts would run on the Disney Channel and during the "Pixar Short Films" block of programming that would run, from time to time, on ABC Family Channel. (It should also be noted, animation history buffs, that 'Tokyo Mater,' which premiered theatrically with the theatrical run of 'Bolt,' was the first Pixar production animated in 3-D.)
Each of the shorts is set up similarly, with Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), the garrulous tow truck from the first film, spinning a yarn about how he got into a series of adventures. Lightning McQueen (not voiced by Owen Wilson in the shorts) always doubts these adventures, until Mater involves him. They are brief, wacky little shorts that are gorgeously rendered by the team at Pixar.
"Rescue Squad Mater," for example, sees the short take on the look and feel of a 1970s cop show, with Mater being part of an emergency response unit. "Unidentified Flying Mater," one of my favorites, has Mater making a close encounter of the third kind with a hubcap-shaped extraterrestrial (and teaching it how to say "dad gum"). "Mater Private Eye," one of two new shorts exclusive to this collection, is a film noir spoof which has some surprising references to Roman Polanksi's 'Chinatown.' (The other exclusive short, "Heavy Metal Mater," isn't quite as amusing.)
These short films don't do a whole lot to flesh out the world of 'Cars,' but maybe that's because there's not much of a world to flesh out (or because it's being saved for the theatrical sequel). They are, however, a whole lot of fun to watch, inventive and quick-witted and often hilarious. If you have a sibling or child that is in love with the 'Cars' franchise (and purchasing at least a small portion of those billions in 'Cars' stuff), then they'll love to catch up with this disc even though, if you run all of the short films back-to-back, it only amounts to a little over a half hour of content.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Mater's Tall Tales' comes to high definition on a 50GB Blu-ray disc, part of a set that includes a DVD copy as well. The disc plays in both Region A and Region B territories. That is all.
Shocker! This MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) is another absolutely perfect transfer from Disney and Pixar!
Seriously, this direct-from-the-digital-source transfer is just as peerless and gorgeous as any of the theatrical films. Detail is impeccable, color pops (Lightning McQueen looks so shiny!), and the entire look is rich and dimensional. Look at the way that the neon bounces during the 'Tokyo Mater' short, or the subtle glow that the aliens give off in 'Unidentified Flying Mater.'
There are no technical issues to speak of, either. And since this is a direct-from-the-digital source transfer, there aren't any annoying filmic issues either, so there aren't any pops or splices or scratches or anything else. I'm not being vague, but there just isn't a lot else to say – this transfer is perfect. Period.
Oh, would you look at that, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 ES surround track is just as dynamic as the video transfer!
One of the great things about these shorts is how quick they are and how you get such a huge variety of locations and environments, and here they're all rendered flawlessly – from the rock hall of "Heavy Metal Mater" to the arenas in "El Materdor" (where Mater pretends to be a bull fighter) and "Mater the Greater"(where he assumes the role of a Super Dave-type daredevil).
There's a ridiculous amount of surround sound support for these bite-sized shorts, with lush dimensionality, outrageously on-point sound effects, wonderful music, and dialogue that is always crisp, clear and well-prioritized. Seriously, these shorts sound better than most features that I review here.
There are also some additional languages on the disc, with French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX tracks as well as an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Subtitles are available fin English SDH, French and Spanish.
There are a surprisingly great special features on this disc, even without a commentary track. All of the special features included here are also on the standard DVD edition (if I'm wrong, feel free to correct me).
Even if it is a naked stab at keeping a cash-grabbing franchise alive until the next smash and grab, I mean, feature film installment, I had a lot of fun with 'Mater's Tall Tales.' The stories are smart, funny, charming, and gorgeously put together. This disc, although running just a half-hour long, is highly recommended for any Pixar completist or animation buff. It's equipped with some flawless audio and video and a fine host of special features (even without a commentary track). It's a touch pricey, but you also get a DVD, so there's that. If there's a 'Cars' fanatic in your house, this is kind of a no-brainer. Highly Recommended.