Twice, actually. Maybe three times. But the third time was just generally tearing up, whereas the first two had tears literally streaming down my face as I tried to hide it from Stephanie.
Overall, Cars is not Pixar's strongest, nor did I (or anyone) really expect it to be. It's a flawed work; the human-free world where cars are the only life form is indeed strange and doesn't hold up under the most basic scrutiny. After a spectacular and unusually frenetic opening, Pixar's usually taut pacing goes (intentionally) a bit slack and meandering. The happenings in the little town never quite seem to get "fun" enough, and the one major effort (the "tractor-tipping" episode) is kind of weird.
But somehow, certain aspects--Sally, Doc Hudson, the history of Radiator Springs--packed an emotional punch I can't recall getting from any other Pixar movie. Even talking about it afterwards made me teary-eyed again.
I know Finding Nemo seems to resonate most with actual kids and parents. In fact, my sister cried throughout that one, to the point where she didn't even enjoy it because it was too sad. I'm pretty sure Nemo got to me too. But I think in the end, Cars won more tears than the fish.
There are powerful threads of nostalgia running through Cars, honoring the legends of the past as expressed through classic cars and Route 66. Paul Newman's voice adds yet another layer of legendary. That, and there's something about cars, even ones with big tongues and windshield eyes, that I connect to deeply in ways I don't even understand. I understand that these things are subjective. Stephanie did not cry at all.
I'm not sure Cars is a good kids' movie. It's long, often slow, and contemplative in a way that kids might not appreciate. The kids in the theater often seemed restless, and for a movie about cars, the action-to-talking ratio is surprisingly low. But its earnestness is charming and affecting, and for grown-ups who are willing to watch a familiarish story about cartoon cars in a world that makes no sense, it's worth the trip.