We just love our cars.

"I don't even like old cars . . . . I'd rather have a goddam horse. A horse is at least human, for God's sake." J.D. Salinger

Although America's love affair with the auto is currently threatening the country's economic and environmental stability, the creators of Toy Story take us to an imaginative world in which there are no humans to upset balances, just cars grooving to the sounds of competition, love, and family values.

John Lasseter and Pixar's Cars is an enthusiastic animation about cars that act like humans on a highway, Route 66, that once embodied the American dream of the open road and limitless opportunities as we wended west in search of adventure and sunnier homesteads. The photorealistic cinematography alone is worth seeing, especially the buttes and plains that compete with the real Monument Valley and Grand Canyon for majesty.

But the heart of the film rests on heart, the need to find and nurture someone special, the need to love competitors and maybe sacrifice even for them, the need to respect the elderly, and the need to preserve the past embodied in the solid values of small town and big heart. This is all red-state red meat, and Hollywood may be pandering to its own neocon critics, yet the tone and themes seem just right for any of us who have had the luxury of small town community love. This film's Radiator Springs, long forgotten with the construction of interstate route 40, contains the enduring seeds of friendship and caring that the hipper LA, where Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is bound to compete for the Piston Cup Championship, has long forsaken.

Not forgotten but just hibernating is old Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), who has a few races under his hood and much to say about life to Lightning. So effective is Newman's voice, with its evocation of all the hot-shot characters Newman has played, that Hudson becomes a sage, elderly Butch Cassidy, car no more. As well does the film become much more than a brilliant animation: It delivers sentiment closer to us lovers of autos than toys or bugs or closet bugaboos could ever.

We just love our cars.