Liz Tells Frank What Happened In Pixar’s “Cars”

Dear Frank,

I had the pleasure last weekend of spending some time with my family at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and even though I’d been there within the last 18 months, there was still a ton of new stuff to check out — the biggest example of which was Cars Land, a massive tribute to Pixar’s most merchandised/profitable franchise.

An entire giant chunk of California Adventure has been turned into a recreation of Radiator Springs, and if I were a small young person I would probably have flipped my shit over getting to walk down the main street and see all the shops and vehicles I know from the movie.

However, I am not a small young person, and until this week, I’d never seen Cars all the way through. For, like many Pixar fans, I have a habit of discounting the Cars movies, as if they don’t count against the company’s otherwise pristine history of creating beautifully scripted and rendered films.

I always cry during Pixar movies, Frank. Cars didn’t even make me sniffle. Let’s get to it!

First things first: Cars takes place in a nightmare world where all the people are gone. Like, GONE. And yet the cars are like people? It’s a whole thing, where the cars are like people and their food is oil and they get turned on by a nicely-formed bumper.

(I kind of wish I’d seen this movie when it came out, as there’s no shortage of joking to be done about WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE PEOPLE — in fact, over the past six years the Internet has been hard at work on this issue. I personally lean towards the post-apocalypse being involved, but that’s just me.)

Anyways, the plot of Cars is… Well, as many have pointed out before, it’s the plot of the 1991 Michael J. Fox romantic comedy Doc Hollywood. Don’t believe me? Well…

Benjamin Stone Lightning McQueen is a young doctor racecar driving to L.A where he was offered a new job as a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills will compete in a big tie-breaking race. He gets off the highway to avoid a traffic jam because of some bullshit with his transport truck, but gets lost and ends up crashing into a fence in the small town of Grady tearing up the pavement of small town Radiator Springs. He is sentenced to 32 hrs of community service at the local hospital repave the road. All he wants is to serve the sentence and get moving, but gradually the locals become attached to the new doctor racecar, and he falls for the pretty ambulance driver, Lou motel owner, Sally. Will he leave?

In both cases, the ultimate answer is NOPE! Both Michael J. Fox and the cocky li’l NASCAR car decide to stick around and help the town out. SURPRISE! I know you’re shocked.

Doc Hollywood, in case you’ve forgotten, features some charming performances by Fox, Woody Harrelson and Bridget Fonda. I remember liking it quite a bit, in that channel-surfing-through-basic-cable sort of way. What does Cars have that it doesn’t? Well:

  • Some admittedly lovely CGI renderings of the southwest desert.
  • Owen Wilson as the voice of Lightning McQueen! And Paul Newman as the voice of his curmudgeonly mentor! And Bonnie Hunt as the love interest! When was the last time Bonnie Hunt was ever a love interest? TOO LONG AGO, is the answer.
  • An AWFUL runner about how men don’t like to ask for directions because MEN AM I RIGHT?
  • A reminder of how mind-numbingly boring NASCAR is.
  • Seriously, 200 LAPS?!? 200 LAPS, in a race. THAT IS TOO MANY LAPS.
  • An extended musing on the death of Route 66.
  • 200 LAPS? THIS IS AMERICA’S MOST POPULAR SPORT? DUDES DRIVING IN A CIRCLE 200 TIMES IN A ROW?
  • A sequence devoted to “tractor tipping,” the Cars equivalent of cow-tipping, because tractors are to cows what cars are to people in this crazy mixed-up world, and JEEZ LOUISE that’s nonsense.
  • The line “I create feelings in others that they themselves don’t understand,” which made me laugh a little.
  • SERIOUSLY 200 LAPS WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF SPORT IS THIS?
  • The characters Luigi and Guido, who are Italian cars who are Chip n’ Dale-esque “best friends” — grown men who live together as partners. Sneaky stuff, given…
  • Larry the Cable Guy.

Sigh.

A quick note regarding Larry the Cable Guy…The character he voices, hapless hick Mater the tow truck, is relatively harmless. He’s a good foil and fairly likable. Is that because Larry the Cable Guy is a gifted performer, or because the character is well-designed for his role as comic relief, and any junior-level Pixar animator from Baton Rouge would have been able to do the same work without breaking much of a sweat?

I would never dare to answer that question. I will, instead, link to this open letter David Cross wrote to Larry the Cable Guy a while back, and leave it at that.

Here are the primary problems with Cars: It is two hours long, which is way too long, and its CGI auto protagonist is not nearly as likable as Michael J. Fox, which is essential to the Doc Hollywood premise. It’s got its heart in the right place, but it’s simply not as sophisticated as other Pixar films, thus making it (and its sequel) an unfortunate asterisk on the company’s record.

Except. Hmmm. Is Cars an aberration, or a sign of a growing trend in the company’s future output? An interesting piece on IndieWire supposes the latter, and its points are well-supported.

I saw Brave, and I liked it, but it didn’t make me cry. It didn’t make me think. It wasn’t quite art. Those are qualities I’m so used to associating with Pixar movies — but maybe the time has come to start adjusting my expectations.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on August 1, 2012, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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