Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"Cars"-- Auto Eroticism in America

"Cars" (the movie, not the old rock group with Ric Ocasek) has barnstormed up the movie charts and according to many pundits its a great movie, some even say, an instant classic. There is no doubting that 20 years into their creative arc,Pixar Entertainment is the leader in the field when it comes to this sort of computer generated animation. And interestingly enough, 'children's' movies (I use the term loosely) during that same period of time have not only become much bigger business, but are attracting a galaxy of stars to do the voices, and of musical stars to do the sound track (this one is scored by Randy Newman and has James Taylor, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Rascal Flats, and others).

I must say however that this particular animated feature is in fact mostly for adults. In the first place it has themes like 'nostalgia' for the good old days (n.b. children are not old enough to think that way), or selfish opportunism in the pursuit of one's career path vs. self-sacrifical behavior (again the way this is pitched in this movie is over young children's heads), or romance between 'young' cars (again not a children's theme).

Unlike some children's movies that have a few jokes for the adults, this movie seems more oriented towards adults. You can also see this in the level of action in the movie-- apart from the NASCAR like races at the beginning and end of the movie this movie is very slow paced, and its centerpiece is life on ole Route 66 in the town that time forgot--- Radiator Springs. Unlike "Ice Age-- the Melt Down" this movie has some real slow spots for children, though I thoroughly enjoyed it. A fast-paced comic thriller this is not, but it has some classic scenes e.g. when Lightning McQueen (voice by Owen Wilson) the youngbuck race car, and Mater the tow truck go 'tractor tipping' out in the fields outside town one night, or in the brief scenes where Cheech Marin is playing the pimped up low rider car which is pretty hysterical.

The animation in itself is worth seeing this movie for, as it is truly amazing whether we are talking about the cars or the towns, or the breathtaking scenery of the west near Grand Canyon. And there is a not so subliminal message for adults in this movie as well which hooks them because of their love of vintage cars and perhaps there love of travel.

And the message is this--- we need to rethink our cultural trends which lead to going everywhere fast but getting nowhere fast when it comes to the things that really matter. At one juncture in the movie there is a critique of the building of Interstate 40 across America which caused many small towns through which Route 66 went to become ghost towns. Instead of conforming to the contours of the land, says the commentator, we now run roughshod over it, and miss all the interesting things along the way-- a sort of there is joy in the journey, and things to learn from the past kind of message. But it is also reminiscent of the recent decisions taken in New Hampshire and Vermont to ban Walmart from town lest it lead to the closing down of all the downtown mom and pop businesses.

But of course this movie is also about auto eroticism--- America's great love for its cars, the ultimate symbol of its mobility and freedom. This movie plays up that theme in various ways. We have the dream cars (the female lead is a Porsche in this movie!), the race cars, the junk cars, the vintage restored cars, the funky Italian cars (Guido and Luigi no less) and at the end a hilarious segment where SUVs are sent to boot camp to learn how to actually do off roading.

Instead of people are like the cars they drive, we have the reverse theme-- cars are like different kinds of people. My personal favorite is the old VW Mini-van from the 60s still painted in psychedelic colors, who sits watching a blinking yellow light and comments "You know man every third blink is like slower", to which his buddy the panel van replies "The 60s weren't good to you were they?" We are what we drive it would seem, in America, or at least we see our cars as an extension and expression of our personalities. No wonder public transportation is such a non-starter in much of this country. Whoever envisioned themselves as a subway car or a Greyhound bus?

The Pixar company is to be commended for quality work over the last two decades, but this movie is not a classic like Toy Story or Bug's Life and some of their other big hits. It is however, as the saying goes, a fun ride while it lasts (a bit less than two hours), which is only appropriate for a movie about cars.

6 comments:

Frank Walton said...

I totally agree with your assessment here. I'm also at the point where I'm tired of these bland, already-done-it plots that Pixar is doing. I know you can only be so unique with so many cartoons out but I was nearly bored while watching the movie.

Ben Witherington said...

This is one of the dangers with CG. It looks creative and fresh, but as our Texas friends say, there is a danger of being "all hat and no cattle" or all show and no dough, or looks good, but lacks creative content.

RC said...

It may seem totally wierd to you (or not) but when you write about "average everyday movies" I am always very impressed with your thoughts as well as your ability to express them.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this and movies like Prarie Home Companion...I love these post.

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

Glen Woods said...

Hi Ben,

I understand and appreciate your critique of the movie. I just want to share that I was able to use the movie as a point of discipleship with the kids I pastor at my church last night. Most of them, from 5 years old to fourth grade, had watched the movie. The majority of them pointed out that they thought it was really cool for Lightning McQueen to stop short of the finish line and then go back to the other car to help him get across the line so he could finish too. They then made their own points of application about considering the needs of others before their own. For what it's worth as a pastor to kids, I saw this as a small victory.

I wasn't overly enthralled with the movie myself, aside from the amazing CGI, but I did appreciate the point of application that struck the bullseye for my particular flock. I just wanted to throw in my two cents about it. :)

Blessings,

Glen Woods

Todd M said...

My wife and I took our 7-year-old and one of his friends to see it. Honestly, I had not interest in seeing what I thought was just a cartoon with talking cars. But, I really enjoyed it. The boys and Lisa did, too. But we laughed at different things. I didn't try to read any more into it than just a fun movie with a lot of retro jokes.

Reel Fanatic said...

Great stuff .. I'm way behind on summer flicks, and am finally gonna get to see this one today .. I'm hoping beyond hope I'll like it in spite of the very familiar story line