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 | , ,


  1. The mountains are actually a tribute to a specific piece of art here in Texas.


    Comment by Josh | October 14, 2010 | Reply

    • You know, I’d seen that before in something. Another movie, I’m sure. And then I totally forgot about it when watching this.

      Comment by ajmovies | October 14, 2010 | Reply

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