I’m watching a movie with Larry the Cable Guy in it, yeah, I’m as shocked as you are!
Screenplay By: Dan Fogelman, Jorgen Klubien, John Lasseter, Phil Lorin, Kiel Murray & Joe Ranft
Directed By: John Lasseter & Joe Ranft
I avoided Cars for a long time, for many years it remained the one missing entry in my Pixar viewing catalog. I had seen bits and pieces of the film every once in a while, but never enough to make me want to give the black sheep of Pixar a true go. As time carried on my avoidance turned into a fear, I loved Pixar so much that I would not let this movie sully my image of them. The only way to ensure that Cars didn’t bring down Pixar from the pedestal I had placed them on was to not watch the movie. See, I wasn’t avoiding Cars any more, I was doing the reputation of Pixar a favor, I’m just that kind of guy. Alas, recently my avoidance came to an end as my fiancee, daughter and I sat down for my first ever true viewing of Cars.
As the final seconds ticked off of the DVD timer I could only think to ask one question, “why all the hate?” I didn’t leave my viewing of Cars thinking of it as an all-time great from Pixar, but I did leave the experience knowing I had just seen a great movie. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why so many people harbored scary levels of vitriol towards this finely crafted film. I can understand not liking Cars, I can understand it not being your thing. But, hating it, no, no, no, that doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.
The most common complaint I have read levied against Cars is that it’s a slight picture, the first entry from Pixar that doesn’t touch on any larger themes. In this case I have to ask another question, “uh, what?” The theme of Cars was pretty darn obvious to me, but it was also a very solid theme. The town of Radiator Springs represents the midway point of American culture, Doc Hudson the past, and Lightning McQueen the future. The only way for Radiator Springs, and thus America, to be of value is for the old to work with the new, and vice versa. At its core Cars is a simple tale of Americana, of the need to look to the past and stare ahead into the future. There may be no better symbol for America than that of the car, and in a cautionary tale of the recklessness of youth and the stubbornness of maturity those cars prove their mettle. I came away from Cars thinking about my country, the mistakes we have made, the mistakes we will make, but also of the middle ground. Cars draws a line and says we can meet in the middle, it’s simply a question of whether or not we want to.
That’s heady stuff, but you know what, Cars is also funny, charming and adventurous. In a way this hearkens back to the idea of America, because Cars is many things just like America is many things. Cars is comedic, it is dramatic, it is charming, it is boorish, and so on. Maybe in this regard John Lasseter and Joe Ranft reach too far. But, I don’t think that is the case, Cars doesn’t reach too far, it actually hits its mark on almost every occasion. No, the more I think about it the more I like my reading of Cars as America, warts and all. I laughed during Cars, I watched with interest, I enjoyed the characters and I had a good time. There were a few bumps along the way, but that’s the way things are on American roads, I think we all can agree with that.
I could have done without Larry the Cable Guy getting his catchphrase added to the script. I also could have done without the montage featuring Jay Leno and some other pop culture references. But, those are minor gripes in what is an otherwise well made film (that excludes the animation in Cars, it isn’t just well done, it is stunning). I laughed, I cheered, I hung my head during Cars. I experienced large chunks of American history and a foretelling of American future. And I got all of this from a movie I avoided for a long time and the supposed black sheep of the Pixar clan. I was a fool to avoid Cars for so long, not that me being a fool is anything new. There’s no reason to avoid Cars, unless you like avoiding great movies. Then by all means avoid, but clear the lanes and let the rest of us enjoy the heck out of this baby.