Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Pixar Project: Cars

Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You where life is a highway. I'm Dave-El and I want to ride it all night long. 

Do I hear snickering? Get your minds out of the gutter! Geez!

Today is an installment of The Pixar Project, a series of posts where I recount my family's re-watch of Pixar movies. This endeavor has brought us this week to Cars. 

When Cars was first released, it did very well at the box office and the reviews were positive. Yet it’s not a movie that's held with high esteem by Pixar purists.

Perhaps it’s the super successful merchandising of the movie, giving Cars a broader, more commercial appeal, the triumph of commerce over art. There’s a shadow over Cars from what came next, the dilution of the Pixar brand with the Cars sequel which didn’t hit the mark of the critical and financial success of prior Pixar movies. A Pixar movie should be successful because it’s good, not because its easily marketable to young boys. 

Maybe Cars isn’t as beloved because our protagonist, Lightning McQueen, is immediately unlikeable and by the halfway point, McQueen is still being a jackass. This was different from previous Pixar movies. Yes, Woody was a jerk towards Buzz in Toy Story but Woody is still a good guy whose letting his feelings of jealousy and insecurity get in the way. Marlin might be an overprotective father to Nemo but then we know the tragic back story as to why that is; otherwise, Marlin is a just a father doing whatever he can to save his son.  Bob Parr’s frustrations with his life threatens his relationship with his family but there is no denying that in his heart, the erstwhile Mr. Incredible is a good man.

But there is nothing good about Lightning McQueen from the word go. McQueen is a raging narcissist egomaniac who is dismissive of others. McQueen is Donald Trump in the shape of a car.  Well, McQueen isn’t THAT bad but still…

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of the unlikeable protagonist who becomes more likeable over the course of a story. And Lightning McQueen does have an interesting redemption story as he eventually he opens up to understand the dreams of others are just as important as his own dreams. In and of itself, it’s a perfectly acceptable character arc. When stacked up against other Pixar characters, McQueen doesn’t fare as well and thus is not as fondly remembered as a protagonist.

The actual experience of watching Cars can still be rather enjoyable. The film is packed with car puns and pop culture references. The animation is dazzling with energetic high speed races right out of a NASCAR event. The sleek metallic sheen of race cars was beautifully rendered.

The core of the story, however, is not on the race track but in the little town forgotten by the side of the interstate, Radiator Springs. It’s hard for the few remaining residents to hold on to their dreams. But as McQueen lurches towards his redemption, the town reawakens to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Radiator Springs could be something again. The scene where the cars going cruising down the newly repaved main street to the sound of “Sh-boom” in the glowing warmth of neon lights is a high mark of the film. It reminded me of my own small hometown where in its heyday, the streets were filled with cruising cars, the air filled with music, the darkness pushed back by headlights and street lights.

I guess the main thing that really scratches at the back of the mind is exactly how this world of anthropomorphic automobiles even came to be. If cars are the dominant life form, why do cars have seats? There’s no one riding in them!

My theory is that earth was beset by a radioactive event that destroyed all human life but transferred their minds and souls into cars.

And that is not the weirdest theory I’ve ever heard.

Ultimately, it was more fun than I anticipated to revisit Cars. It lacks the unexpected depths of other Pixar movies but it’s sleek and stylish to look at. All in all, an amusing enough excursion and not a complete blot on the reputation of Pixar. (That will come later.) 

Tomorrow on the blog? Politics! (Yes, I hear the groaning all the way over here.) Has our presidential election come to a crisis point? Has Donald Trump crossed from crazy to super insane? And do his supporters even care? We'll talk about that tomorrow. Well, I'll talk about it and you will read it. (Yes, you will! You must!!)

Saturday dredges up something I wrote 4 years ago before this blog existed. Since the Summer Olympics for 2016 are starting, I figure this would be a good time to inflict it on you.  Er, share. I meant, share with you.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

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