So for those who haven’t visited my “About Me” page, I got into movies in 2008. I started (casually) writing movie reviews in 2011. It wasn’t until maybe 2012 then that I figured out Cars was a Pixar movie. For the longest time, I thought it was just another animated outing from DreamWorks or Blue Sky or something. When I first looked up the list of Pixar films, I was shocked to see Cars smack dab in the middle of some of my favorite animated films of all time. I quickly re-visited Cars to make sure I didn’t miss anything. This time, I found myself asking different questions: how does a company that knows nothing but success produce something so middling? How does the A+ student get a C on his test? How is Cars a Pixar movie? These questions will be addressed in the concluding portion of this review.
To be fair, Cars was a success. If not in the box office, it was a huge success in merchandising. And it is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, although I don’t think that says too much about animated films since critics seem to grade more leniently when it comes to family films (which I find to be terribly pretentious; why shouldn’t family films be analyzed and scrutinized like any other movie?). I’m getting besides the point because I just don’t have that much to say about Cars itself. This really could be a quick review (instead of a movie review), but Cars is a Pixar movie and I am giving every Pixar movie at least a movie review, if not a full review, because I think they deserve my time. The actual review portion of this post will be short because there simply isn’t much I hated or much that I loved. Cars is well-made but unsubtle, thought-out but predictable, moral but cliche. Cars is my textbook definition of what it means to be an “average” movie, and it hurts me to say it. Why Pixar, why!
The Not-So Unique Premise
In every Universe Pixar created up to this point, there were always some nuances that made their world unlike our own. Sure, toys acted like us, but they didn’t feel physical pain. They had to scurry back into place. They froze in the presence of a human being. In this world, cars act like humans. That’s it. No nuances. Imagine NASCAR, except the spectators are cars and gasoline is the new beer (though Pixar wouldn’t dare to make that joke). There’s your car world. Something completely replaceable by human spectators, human drivers, human-made cars, and a real-live action camera.
The first story you think you are being introduced to through the introduction of protagonist Lightning McQueen is the story you get. To put it bluntly, McQueen is a cocky prick who thinks winning is everything, so logically, you’re thinking he needs to learn that winning isn’t everything and to stop being such a cocky prick. And what do you know, through some strange contrivances (cars drive cars to places in this world), McQueen finds himself stuck in a little town where he’ll make his first friends, fall in love, and learn some life lessons from some old dude, err, car.
The Pixar Moment
Uhh… umm… is it when McQueen learns the old car crashed in some race a long time ago?
Or is it when the person, err, car McQueen falls in love with reveals that Radiator Springs used to be some awesome indie town until the construction of the interstates? Hey, that could be used as a great analogy for how big city development and monopolizing corporations are obscuring the prosperity of local businesses and shops in which the nation should be depen… oh.
But if I am to be serious, there is a bright spot in Cars that cannot be glossed over. In every Pixar movie, there is a particular set-piece to which the story builds to. In A Bug’s Life, it was the bird attack scene. In Monsters Inc., it was the door factory chase. In Cars, it’s actually a plotless drive through Radiator Springs, and the placement of this drive in the context of the story is perfect since it’s right before the aforementioned “big reveal.” Once again, Pixar dazzles with their technical superiority, and it is the only time in which the storytelling is both clear and brilliant. McQueen asks: where are we going? And his love interest replies: I don’t know.
It’s strange to think my favorite part of this movie is when it’s not progressing the plot, but who could blame me when the story is just so… ordinary. I don’t want to give the impression that Cars is a bad movie. It’s just one that is well shy of Pixar’s better efforts. I like how McQueen’s love interest actually asks the guy on a date, err, drive. I like how McQueen doesn’t win the final race, as scripted as it was. The A+ student derived the velocity of the vehicle as a function of time, but the question stated that the car started out on an empty tank. Pixar thought we wanted a Cars movie, but there was simply no spark in its conception.
Final Grade: C (75%)–Like McQueen, Cars isn’t a winner, but in lieu of what Cars is about, perhaps that is okay.