Storyline reflects real life goings-on in the racing world
By John Cairns
Today, my column is about Lightning McQueen and the Cars series of movies from Disney-Pixar.
On Friday night I had the opportunity to see Cars 3, the latest effort, at the Scotiabank Theatre in Saskatoon. (Sorry, North Battleford.)
The real reasons I wanted to watch it there were: I had a Cineplex gift card to use; plus, I wanted to see this flick in 3D. If you are going to see a Cars movie, 3D is really the way to see it, because it just brings these cars to life in a way 2D does not.
And for a movie series like this one, bringing these cars to life as characters is all-important. I mean, seriously, people – these are automobiles.
It’s almost asking for the impossible to get people to care about automobiles as characters in any movie. But this Cars series finds a way, and I don’t think this series gets the credit it deserves for that accomplishment.
The Cars series is in many ways the black sheep of the entire Disney-Pixar library. The film critics always seem to prefer, well, just about every other one of these masterpieces that the studio turns out – WALL-E, Up, the Toy Story series, you name it.
From my standpoint, I think what this really is is Disney-Pixar’s line of “populist” entertainment. These CGI-animated features are the closest thing in their library to Saturday morning cartoons.
And in fact, the idea of bringing-cars-to-life-in-cartoon-form is not original. Hanna-Barbera was doing it for years on Saturday mornings. First, they had the Speed Buggy cartoons. Remember that? That series was more or less a clone of Scooby-Doo except with a talking car instead of a dog. Then came Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, which was chock-full of talking vehicles and motorcycles.
The difference in those efforts is that the “eyes” on those cars were headlights. In the Cars series, the eyes are in the windshield, and much bigger.
The way I see it, you either like Cars or you don’t. It’s no different if you are a NASCAR fan; there’s a big divide between the people who like the good-‘ol-boys and their wrecks, and the people who find it boring.
It’s the same with “car culture,” like highways, Route 66, and the rest. If you’re the type of person who prefers bicycles and public transportation, or hates it every time your car breaks down and has to be towed in to the shop for costly repairs, then there’s probably no way I can convince you to feel any empathy towards any animated talking automobiles whatsoever.
But if you love NASCAR culture and are fascinated by the history of the sport, or if you simply are a car or garage freak in general, these Cars movies will strike a chord.
For this latest effort Cars 3, the story revolves around the struggles Lightning McQueen (voiced again by Owen Wilson) has with... old age. He’s struggling up against the new breed of rookies on the racetrack, including villains such as Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) who are aerodynamically designed to run rings around McQueen.
The storyline is that McQueen’s racing career is under threat. All of McQueen’s buddies are being pushed out of the sport. McQueen himself is feeling the pressure, as he ends up wiping out in a big car wreck.
As he recovers back in Radiator Springs, watching old film of the wreck that ended the racing days of his mentor Doc Hudson, McQueen resolves that he doesn’t want to go out the way Hudson did. He wants to be able to decide for himself when he’s ready to retire.
He ends up heading to a racing centre run by his new owner, Sterling, and it’s there that he meets female trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). But the training goes badly, McQueen ends up wrecking the simulator, and his new owner wants to retire McQueen to a life of promotions and marketing deals. But McQueen convinces Sterling to give him one last shot. If he wins in Florida, McQueen will be able to keep racing and decide for himself when to stop.
The plot takes some further twists and turns from there, but this storyline does reflect what is actually happening in NASCAR at the moment. The latest Cars 3 movie was produced around the same time the legendary Jeff Gordon was retiring from racing, and his story was definitely something that inspired director Brian Fee when he was creating the storyline for this movie. (Gordon has a part in this movie, as “Jeff Gorvette.”)
But it’s not just Gordon departing; there really is a generational change going on in NASCAR. This year came the news that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was retiring, too.
McQueen’s big wreck and recovery from it are reminiscent of Kyle Busch’s wreck and his comeback from injury to win the NASCAR title.
But this movie also features the story of Cruz Ramirez and her attempts to make it in the male-dominated world of auto racing. That’s reflective as well of the efforts of women such as Danica Patrick to break into the NASCAR ranks and race at the highest level.
Ultimately, as Cars 3 goes on, we see how Lightning McQueen realizes he can be a mentor to Cruz Ramirez and help her achieve her racing dreams on the “Piston Cup” circuit.
So this movie ends up taking a lot of twists and turns. While it focuses at first on McQueen trying to win, as the story goes on it sort of stops being about “winning” and more about “life.”
That, in a nutshell, is why you ultimately give a hoot about these automobiles and their adventures. These movies find a way to bring these cars to life with strong storytelling and good character development, reflecting what’s really going on out there in the real world – our human world.
Of course, the Cars movies have also brought out no end of speculation over the years about this strange human-free world they inhabit. I’ve seen whole articles on the Internet by people speculating about whether this represents some sort of post-human apocalyptic future: a world that the cars have taken over. I also notice plenty of articles speculating on another question: how does a male car and a female car bring a new member of the car family into the world?
Come to think of it, I don’t think I want to go near that topic. Anyway, with this Cars series you do have to suspend belief at times.
Cars 3 continues at the Capitol Theatre until Thursday. If you still want to see it after Thursday, you’ll have little choice but to make a trip to Saskatoon, in your car.