Each child has something in particular that they get invested in, be it a sport, film, or television show. For my younger sister, that “something” was the PIXAR’s Cars, which was one of the first films she ever saw. As a result, when the DVD was released, it got a lot of airtime in our household. Some might say it got too much airtime, though I wouldn’t have at the time. Being a child I was still quite content watching an animated vehicular film, but now I am of the age where I can make several educated decisions for myself. Let me tell you, I have some thoughts.
The plot follows rookie race car Lightning McQueen as he competes against Chick Hicks and The King to win the coveted Piston Cup. When McQueen becomes separated from his transport truck Mack, on the way to a tie-breaker race, he finds himself in the quaint little town of Radiator Springs. Having accidentally obliterated their road upon his arrival, the mayor Doc Hudson orders him to re-pave it before he is allowed to leave. What follows is a tale of friendship and discovery. As the title may suggest, we are in a car-inhabited world and it is a true work of art to behold. There is not a single detail that feels off, from stadiums being fitted for cars down to the flies that are Volkswagen Beetles. PIXAR has done a fantastic job creating a world that feels like it has always been inhabited by vehicles, which is good because the thought of humans existing here is kind of horrifying when you really take a moment to think about it.
Growing up in a small island community, I see a lot of my hometown in Radiator Springs. Everyone gathering to dish the local gossip and the older cars dozing off when they think nobody can see are thing that I recognise. There’s a real community feel to Cars that PIXAR hadn’t really tried to capture before now. Perhaps that’s why the final act has always hit me so hard. The townsfolk coming to McQueen’s aide when he needs it most and McQueen, in turn, helping out The King, brings this over-whelming sense off togetherness. People caring for other people, or in this case cars caring for cars, is something that we seem to see less off as the years go by and I really miss it. We may have our differences, we may disagree and we may fight, but at the end of the day we are all one people. Throwing all of the negativity aside when someone needs us provides this sense of hope that maybe, one day, well all be alright. It’s that message that hits so hard and will probably hit people in the LGBT community just a little bit more. It certainly did for me.
Of the 6 movies that PIXAR has provided thus far, this one is the most childish. Now, that isn’t a bad thing, it just leads Cars to feel like more of a standard Disney flick than a PIXAR one. It’s possible that it may have something to do with Disney acquiring PIXAR in the same year as this film’s release, though of course there is no way to be certain. It’s certainly the most dated of their features, with references to Jay Leno and the then governor of California- Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “crude” humour shines through in the form of Mater the Tow Truck, voiced by the unique comedy of Larry the Cable Guy. He’s your average hillbilly/redneck stereotype and, if I’m being honest, I think that PIXAR is above that. It would also be the first of their films to feature a romantic subplot in the form of Sally. There have been romances before, but not as part of the plot and certainly not this cliche. If there was romance in previous films, it was between characters who already knew each other and had at least some form of relationship. Here, Sally is completely new to McQueen who only initially shows interest in her because she’s a Porsche. It’s a shame, because I think that Sally is a really fun and likeable character on her own.
With Cars being released in 2006 and being centred around Route 66 (the mother road of the USA) it was perhaps unavoidable that there would be a Country soundtrack. I actually think that not having that kind off soundtrack would have damaged the film by making it feel less “homey” but here’s the thing- it’s pop country. This isn’t the smooth voices and guitars that you would associate with the genre, it’s an entire band and auto-tuning. It’s not so much Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler as it is the soundtrack to the hit TV show Nashville, which is absolutely fine, if you like it. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of pop country, after all music changes and adapts, but I’d take classic country any day.
In the end, Cars is a good film, but I think it prevents itself from being among “The Greats” of PIXAR like Toy Story or Monsters Inc. The story and the aesthetic are beautiful, stunning in places, but it dates itself more than it needs to. Movies should not feel like they have to make current references in order to stay fresh because, at the end of the day, only history decides what will be remembered. When the writing in Cars focuses on the story and characters, it’s great, and ultimately there is a great film here. You just have to look past the “kids stuff” to get to it.
Until Next Time…