Alternative Character Interpretation: Some have theorised that Lightning developed Stockholm Syndrome during his forced stay in Radiator Springs: lost, confused, not allowed to speak to a lawyer or try to call anyone, locked up and forced into heavy labor until he ends up screaming for help from a passing pair of minivans before his view of Radiator Springs and its inhabitants does an abrupt 180.
Audience-Alienating Premise: Some people find the very concept of a world of cars just downright peculiar, and thus feel that it distracts from the story.
Award Snub: Its competitors for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature were Happy Feet and Monster House, and Happy Feet won. On the other hand, 2006 was considered to be a generally bad year for animated films, and while Cars has a healthier shelf life than it's competition, it's not by much.
Base-Breaking Character: Mater is either the Breakout Character or The Scrappy. The general medium ground is that, while he's tolerable in small doses (the first and third films, Mater and the Ghostlight and Mater's Tall Tales), the focus on him in the sequel caused him to quickly overstay his welcome.
Bellisario's Maxim: The concept of a world populated exclusively by sentient cars raises a lot of questions (how can cars print newspapers if they don't have hands? What does the inside of a car consist of? How do cars reproduce? etc.), which non-fans find it's most distracting flaw. This is especially noticeable in Mater's Tall Tales and the second movie, which go all over the world but only "car-ifies" it with cheesy jokes rather than the more subdued internal logic of the first movie.
Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: When the paparazzi find Lightning in Radiator Springs and shine a spotlight on him, Mater yells "It's the ghost light!", and the movie makes no reference to this and no attempt to explain what he's talking about. Slightly played with in that this is actually a reference to a short that comes with the DVD, but if you're watching it in theaters or on TV this context is removed. Mater does mention the Ghostlight in the background of one scene earlier in the film, but you'd have to be a Route 66 buff to catch on.
Cars is easily Pixar's most divisive film. While there are those who find it just as good as any other Pixar film, the people who dislike it consider it a dumb concept by Pixar's standards and consider it to be their now-second weakest film. There are also those who like it despite it not being Pixar's best. The fact that this was the first film released after Pixar merged with Disney (though produced before said merger) and John Lasetter became Disney Animation Head didn't help matters.
Many older fans see the franchise as something of a Dork Age for Pixar as a whole. In general, a lot of the disdain for the franchise stems from its perceived Creator's Favorite status—after all, the sequel was greenlit on the press tour of the first movie and making it the second Pixar franchise to get a full trilogy after Toy Story, and that's on top of Disney releasing a pair of theatrically-released spin-offs. All of this in spite of the consensus that the movies represent a low point for the company. That it's also a Merchandise-Driven property does not do anything to alleviate the situation, with many accusing the sequels of being made only as a cash-grab. The common sentiment among these older fans is that the movies simply aren't worthy of the embellishment that Pixar has placed upon them, and that the company's efforts would be better reserved for creating new movies that are up to the company's usual quality or creating sequels to more beloved films like Finding Nemo and The Incrediblesnote which did ultimately happen, albeit much later than most fans were expecting. That being said, the series does have its fans, especially among younger viewers who look at Cars as a Gateway Series for Pixar, and the third movie's trailer—with the Darker and Edgier tone and the stunning visual effects—has indicated that Pixar is taking the franchise as seriously as any other property they've put work into.
Cliché Storm: Cars is considered to be one of these. It's easy to imagine a little counter in the corner dinging kinda like CinemaSins whenever you see a Pixar cliché. Stranger in a community or group? Check. Brooding moment from a side character? Check. Wacky sidekick who forms a comedic duo with the main character? Check. Said group full of wacky members with their own quirks? Check. All of the development threatens to go downhill when something happens to separate or alienate the stranger? Check. They all decide they like this new stranger and want him back in the group? Check. The stranger decides that s/he really is a member of the group? Check.
Creator's Pet: Within the Pixar "canon," these films are very much John Lasseter's baby and were treated as such in the decade following the first one's release, giving them lots of spin-off material, most of which he directed himself (these would be his last directing jobs at Pixar) at a time when his role was becoming increasingly executive, all while the general public was growing increasingly antipathetic for it. Tellingly, there's been nary a word about any future Cars material following his departure.
While it received the weakest reviews of any Pixar film at the time, the audience response was much more positive. It also won the first Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature.
As adults can explain, kids love Cars, but the older viewers were a little more lukewarm on it.
Ensemble Dark Horse: The four tuner cars: DJ, Boost, Wingo and Snot Rod, who messed with Mack on the highway and inadvertently got McQueen lost in Radiator Springs are among the most memorable characters for their cool designs. As a result, they've returned in several of the games.
Connect Doc's "they quit on me" speech with the fact that this was one of Paul Newman's last major roles.
Also note a movie about cars when a major player in Disney and Pixar, Joe Ranft, had died in a car accident the year prior, a fate that claimed the life of Wolfgang "Woolie" Reithermann 20 years prior and nearly claimed former studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg's life 10 years later.
After Lightning discovers Doc's past as a famous race car before a crash, he's amazed and tells him about how they are Not So Different, to which Doc immediately denies. 10 years later, the Cars 3teaser shows Lightning getting into a devastating crash similar to Doc's.
Heartwarming in Hindsight: Doc claims that he never got a chance to show off what was left of him. Considering that the third film used dialog that Paul Newman himself previously recorded during production as John Lassester was keen on him remaining the voice of Doc, he ultimately did get to show a little more of him.
One of the supporting characters is a diminutive and lovable forklift named Guido... damn you Jersey Shore...
MAD did a spoof that mentioned (among other things) that they cut an appearance by the "Popemobile" at the last second. Well, guess what actually appears in the sequel...
Fillmore's claim that oil companies were running a conspiracy that prevented his organic fuel from being better publicized is this after the second film focused on an actual conspiracy regarding oil corporations.
Ho Yay: Fillmore and Sarge have lots of this. Despite their clashing personalities, the two are almost inseparable. The two are almost always next to each other, Sarge is even shown sleeping next to Fillmore in "Unidentified Flying Mater". Twice. Some of the toy packaging go as far as describing the duo as being "Unable to live without one another."
Informed Wrongness: Much is made about Lightning's arrogance, but the other cars in Radiator Springs refused to hear his side of the story. Sally all but dismisses him while Doc treats him with complete contempt. While Lightning was a jerk, he was placed into an unwinnable situation. This is treated as justifiable because well, Lightning was a jerk.
Along the same lines, the existence of the Pope in-universe implies there was a car Jesus, which naturally invites discussion as to how He was crucified.
KACHOW!note Lightning's Catchphrase, which has gained infamy for how cheesy it sounds.
KACHIGGA!note Chick Hicks' Catchphrase, often done in response to the above.
"He did WHAT in his cup?!"
Misaimed Fandom: The Delinquent Road Hazards, who were responsible for Lightning falling out of his transport truck, were meant to be a gang of dislikable street punks, to the point that the animators modeled them after tastelessly modified "ricer" cars. Strangely enough, the fandom completely fell in love with them and they even got their own (very popular) toys despite their limited screen time, making enough fan art and fanfiction centering on them to impress even the most hardened Internet warrior.
Moral Event Horizon: Chick Hicks, the film's antagonist, was already bad due to his dirty racing tactics, but at the end when he purposely runs The King off the road — causing his crippling crash — and has no remorse for it, he unsurprisingly loses all his fans.
MST3K Mantra: As mentioned above, a world inhabited solely by vehicles lead to a lot of questions over how it functions like the real world does with regards to reproduction, consumption, ethnicity, etc. It's recommended (particularly by fans) not to think too hard about it.
A deleted scene in the first movie shows Lightning McQueen wandering through a car graveyard full of rusty and destroyed cars while trying to find Mack, with most of the car corpses either having plants growing through them or are impaled on some of the tree branches.
Another deleted scene had Lightning choose standard community service over doing a race in the first Radiator Springs Grand Prix, only to have a dream that Doc put his engine (and consciousness) in a steamroller while Mater's engine is put inside Lightning's body, with Mater running off to live Lightning's life once Mack shows up in the dream and Lightning is forced to pave the road. When he wakes up from the nightmare, he notices a steamroller corpse on the side and, rather understandably, changes his mind and ends the scene by deciding to do the race instead.
Older Than They Think: The cars all have their eyes on their windshields rather than on their headlights like how they're traditionally portrayed in media. This actually isn't anything new, as Susie The Little Blue Coupe featured the exact same thing 64 years before this movie. In fact, John Lasseter's decision to use this design is a Shout-Out to this very short.
One-Scene Wonder: Ferrari F430, voiced by Michael Schumacher, makes his brief appearance near the end of the movie.
So Okay, It's Average: The general consensus of the first film (and to an extent, the series as a whole): not awful, but nowhere near Pixar's expected level of quality. In fact, before Cars 2 came along and took the title, Pixar fans loved to brag that even their worst movie was stillgood.
They Copied It, So It Sucks!: The movie got hit with a bit of this by being accused of copying the plot of Doc Hollywood. It isn't completely without merit given the heavy similarities; both are about a character who is trying to get to their next big gig (big city plastic surgeon vs. the Piston Cup), only to get sidetracked in a small, run-down town when they commit a crime forcing them into community service and therefore trapping them in the town until they complete it. Both also feature a romantic subplot and with both characters eventually returning to where they got stuck. In fact, it was bad enough that the creators of the film got accused of plagiarism on a few occasions, though they have repeatedly denied these claims.
The Woobie: If you notice very hard in the "Our Town" sequence, Mater had a coat of sky blue in the flashback. When customers stopped coming to Radiator Springs and business closed and all the cars are looking at the empty road, the first car to leave in disbelief is Mater. Plus, he is the one who has physically changed the most - most of his paint has completely flaked off. And in the present, he's probably the most crazy of the bunch. Evidently, he took the by-pass the hardest.
Woolseyism: During the chase scene between McQueen and Sheriff, McQueen starts zigzaging because he thinks Sheriff is shooting at him (he's actually backfiring), to which Sheriff responds by calling him a crazy hot rodder. In the Spanish dub, he wonders if McQueen's a taxi cab, which is arguably funnier than the generic hot rodder line.
It's Easy, So It Sucks!: While justified due to their nature as kid-appealing tie-in games, the games are often criticised for being extremely easy, to the point where you can often finish races a whole minute ahead of the closest opponent. It's to the point where some reviews recommend you play the Story Mode on Champion difficulty (accomplished by putting CHMPION as your profile name) to get any kind of challenge whatsoever.
Porting Disaster: Though by no means unplayable, due to storage limitations, the Gamecube version doesn't have the bonus trailers, deleted scenes and movie clips that can be purchased in the other versions.