A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 227 – Cars

Cars – October 13th, 2010

In a post-apocalyptic future where humans have killed themselves off and Google’s intelligent cars have made humans irrelevant to car civilization anyhow, vehicles have taken over. Spreading across the world in a mechanical wave, the cars now inhabit our cities and towns, staffing motels, presiding in courtrooms and running television stations. They remade our movies, even. The cars not only took over our world, but our personalities! They became human, with all of our assets and all of our flaws.

At least, that’s what I posit the background for the world of this movie is. It’s somewhat based on the background video game reviewer Yahtzee suggested for the game Burnout: Paradise, but taken a few generations further, with DJ Atomica long dead, his quest to annihilate the hideous intelligent automobiles failed. Left to breed like the creepy commercial cars in Southland Tales, the Auto-Sapiens have traveled the same roads humans did before them, down to abandoning Route 66 for the faster straighter interstate freeways. Makes sense that a civilization of cars would value speed. And to further emphasize that, the plot of the movie revolves around a race car trying to get to a big race in California. And of course he gets stuck in a little roadside town whose heyday is long past.

As one might guess from how I’m describing the movie, the animation and anthropomorphism of the cars that are the cast is really fantastic. The movie has two major strengths: The obsessive referencing to automotive culture and history, and the personalities of the cars and how they’ve all been expressed both in voice acting and animation. The plot isn’t anything particularly special. Fancy pampered race car with dreams of making it truly big gets stranded in hick-ville, forced to do community service for a bunch of yokels he’d never have given the time of day to before. Fancy pampered race car learns about the true meaning of friendship from said yokels and ends up falling in love with the small town that’s on the brink of going belly up. Fancy pampered race car goes back to the big city and puts what he learned to good use in the climactic race, then shows his new friends how much he cares by breathing new life into their town. Take out the bits about cars and races and you’ve got a dozen movies and probably more still to be made. The plot’s not the point.

The point is in the world that’s been created here, complete with all the characters in it. The main character is Lightning McQueen, who’s a rookie racer in the big Piston Cup race. He ties for first with two other cars and so a rematch is set to determine a winner, but en route to California Lightning slips out of his trailer by accident and ends up stuck in Radiator Springs, where he meets the locals. Sally, a Porche who runs the local motel is obviously going to be an antagonist and eventual love interest. That’s not surprising. But Sally herself is a snappy gal, all shiny and fancy looking but also clearly fond of Radiator Springs. Mater, the local tow truck, is one of the biggest redneck caricatures you’ll see aside from Cletus on The Simpsons, but he’s really a sweet character and gets some surprisingly amusing lines. Doc Hudson is a big old car who runs the town and was once a race car himself (of course!), and harbors some resentment towards Lightning. There’s Flo and Ramone, Luigi and Guido, Sarge and Fillmore, the Sheriff, Red the fire truck and Lizzie, one of the original town residents. Among them you’ve got a VW minibus, a police car, a low rider Chevy Impala, and that’s just a couple (see if you can match them up!). The movie is full of cars matched up with personalities, or vice versa.

But then there’s the world. It is amazingly well realized, with fantastic details as only Pixar does them. To be honest, I’m not even sure where to start describing it all. The entire movie is this gigantic world full of cars and car-based stuff. The most obvious thing is the mountains and buttes near Radiator Springs, which are shaped like the hoods and rear ends of classic cars. It’s beautifully done in a way that I’m not sure many other studios could manage. Everything in the movie is a loving tribute to automobiles. Maybe it’s the passion for the subject matter that makes the beauty of it all come through. Or maybe it’s just amazingly good art. Maybe both. Whichever, it’s a wonderfully done piece of animation. I think it’s striking largely because it’s not animals or dolls or bugs or even monsters we’re dealing with. It’s not things that look human or animal. It’s not things that are supposed to be alive, and yet in the movie they’re brought to life, and brought to life in a charming and lovely way.

As I said, it’s not a brilliant story that says anything uniquely insightful about the human condition. The plot isn’t revolutionary. And come on, it’s Pixar. It’s doing what Pixar does, but without any lost or forlorn children (which I totally expected – where’s a lost Mini when you need one?). So I’m not surprised that the movie is visually beautiful, or that the voice acting was well cast and well done. But I admit, I was very impressed. I don’t need to be surprised by Pixar to admire what they do, and taking something inanimate and making it so vividly alive and part of its own bizarre post-human auto-civilized world is a great feat.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments

Cars

October 13, 2010

Cars

I enjoyed this movie a little more when it starred Michael J. Fox and was called Doc Hollywood. Still, there’s a heart to this movie that I can’t deny. It’s a very basic sort of redemption story about a big town cad who has no friends and is completely self obsessed and how he needs to slow down to find out how to really enjoy life.

In this case the cad is race car Lightning McQueen. He’s a rookie on the Piston Cup circuit who has a chance of being the first rookie to win. He’s also an annoyingly egotistical twerp who has alienated everybody he knows. Much is made of the fact that he has no chief for his pit crew, and the crew themselves quit and abandon him after the big race at the start of the movie. This big race ends in a three way tie between Lightning, The King (reigning champ) and Chick, who is Lightning’s chief rival. There is to be a re-match in California in one week, and in an attempt to get there first so he can get to know the course (and schmooze the big-name sponsor he wants) he insists that his transport truck Mac drive overnight with no sleep. On the way he falls out of his cab and finds himself lost in the middle of nowhere, off the beaten path, in a little hick town called Radiator Springs.

What happens isn’t really important. He encounters a group of stereotypes living in the desert far from the quick life of the freeway. He discovers that there might be more to life than winning. He is given nuggets of wisdom from a grumpy old car called Doc and goes “tractor tipping” with Larry the Cable Guy. He eventually and inevitably learns an important lesson about life.

So if the movie is so predictable and formulaic why is it that I enjoy it so much? Well in part it’s because the group Lightning encounters are such fun characters. There’s the rivalry between the retired military Jeep and the burnt out druggie VW Bus. There’s Flo who runs the gas station and her husband the hydraulic low rider voiced by Cheech Marin. There are Luigi and Guido the wacky foreign pair of Grand Prix fans. And much as it shames me to admit it (elite Northeast snob that I am) I got a lot of laughs from Mater, the country hick tow truck played by Larry the Cable Guy.

Another thing I enjoy about this movie is the very strange world-building they do. The world of Cars is one of intelligent automobiles which drive themselves around the country and live their own lives. All the technology they use is familiar to us but used huge buttons which can be manipulated by tires rather than fingers. They can fuel themselves from pumps. They can work hands-free telephones. There’s a car that flies a crop duster. (Though some other vehicles are intelligent too – such as the blimp and the nightmare inducing combine/bull named Frank.) The insects of their world are tiny VW Beetles. It’s a very strange world, but one which the animators seem to have put a lot of thought into as well.

I also love the payoff at the end. The final climactic race wonderfully encapsulates the whole message of the movie and brings everything together. I honestly don’t know how Pixar keeps doing this. This movie should by all rights be a horrible train wreck. It’s a corny story filled with caricatures. But there are a few moments near the end of Lightning’s journey that show a real tenderness and have a valid message to them which really grab me. By the end of the movie I still find myself emotionally moved and touched. Maybe they’re using some kind of subliminal messaging in their movies. The folks at Pixar just have some secret knack which lets them reach out and grab my heart, even with the most corny of stories.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment