As you know I’m not one for the cartoons but somehow I ended up seeing this new one called CARS. What CARS is about is cars. However they are not any ordinary type of car like you’ve ever seen before, they are living cars. And when I say that I am not even talking about a Knight Rider or Herbie the Love Bug type of scenario here, I am talking about an entire society devoid of human life, but dominated by living, feeling cars with weird eyeballs on their windshields. They can make gestures and they can use their tires sort of like hands, and they have jobs, etc. Even the insects of this world are cars, but there are regular non-car plants.
These cars have not only created a civilization, but their civilization has been around long enough that the good old days are gone. The story is about Lightning McQueen, who is apparently not named after Steve McQueen despite his brave service to the cause of cars in LE MANS and BULLITT. Thanks alot, assholes. Lightning is a hotshot race car, basically a NASCAR star without a driver. Because he’s a stubborn egotistical asswipe of a car he fucks up and blows his huge lead making the big race a three way tie. One of the other racers is played by Michael Keaton but he looks like the Burt Reynolds of cars. Anyway Lightning has to go to California for another race and because he’s a celebrity he doesn’t even bother to drive there himself, he goes inside his friend, a Mack truck played by Cliff from Cheers. Basically, he is inside his friend’s ass, but you can’t completely blame him because the inside of his friend’s ass looks like some kind of luxury apartment.
But then Lightning gets lost and ends up stranded in a small town along Route 66 where he learns valuable car lessons and helps revive a dying way of car life, etc.
This movie maybe isn’t quite as effective as the other movies by these TOY STORY people, but it does work. And part of the appeal is the incredible attention to detail, even in the filmatism. For the parts about car races they take on the frinetic tics of sports broadcasting, with flashy camera moves and onscreen graphics and with car commentators and corporate sponsors. There is an entire audience of thousands of cars. Then when it gets out on the road it slows down and there is actual atmosphere. Somehow they really capture the feel of driving out on the highway at night. And when they get to the town, I think it’s called Radiator Springs, there are these quiet establishing shots with a yellow traffic light slightly buzzing as it blinks on and off. Even the sound effects are perfect. They had to figure out the sound of tires rolling around as cars “walk” along having a conversation.
And the computery animation is far beyond what we’ve seen before – the different kinds of lighting, the reflective (or rusty) surfaces of the cars. And the world around them looks like reality. I mean, there were previews for 4 or 5 other computer animated movies before the movie, all of them about talking animals, but not cars. Animation-wise, CARS looks like it’s about 10 years ahead of those other ones.
So I think whether or not you should see this movie all depends on whether the premise freaks you out in a good way or a bad way. It’s cuter than POLAR EXPRESS but in some ways weirder. I mean a world of cars? It’s kind of a freaky premise and it brings up questions here and there, questions that are not answered in the movie. I mean the main thing I wondered was how do cars reproduce? Do they mate, or do they just build other cars? They gotta reproduce somehow because the founder of the town is an antique Henry Ford type deal (you see him in statue form) so there are definitely generations of cars. And thank God, because we want car society to go on bravely into the future.
If cars have parents, do they look like their parents? Or is it just kind of random? Could a bus screw an ice cream truck and pop out a Lightning McQueen? If Lightning and his Porsche girlfriend have a baby what will it look like, half race car and half Porsche? Do they start out small, and if so, why didn’t we see any baby cars like that in the movie?
And if you think about it it gets deeper than that because you have to wonder, is a race car born a race car or does he make a lifestyle choice and then grow into a race car? I guess he’s probaly born that way but what if he doesn’t like to race? Doesn’t being born a certain type of car seem like sort of a curse? Isn’t there something inherently depressing about a world where your entire way of life is predetermined upon birth? What if Mater (played by unfunny fake redneck “Larry the Cable Guy”) didn’t WANT to fucking tow cars? What if he wanted to be a fire truck? Too bad, he’s a tow truck, he’s fucked.
Unless maybe he could get customized, but I don’t know what car society’s view is of that sort of thing. If a ride gets pimped, is that the same as plastic surgery, or is it a natural process? Does it mean you’re a sellout, or an individualist?
I know your job isn’t your whole life, a tow truck can have hobbies outside of towing. But work definitely seems important to these cars. Most of them seem to own their own businesses. They definitely have a whole car economy going, I’m just not sure how it works exactly. We know they sell tires and gas to each other, and money is mentioned. But we never see any money. If they really have money, where do they keep it, in their glove compartments? Does the money have a picture of a car on it? How do they hold it with those big round tires? Obviously they don’t have debit cards, ’cause how the fuck are they gonna type in their PIN numbers?
You know what would really suck? Being a train. There’s a living train in this movie. I hope that guy can get off the tracks, otherwise he’s got the rawest deal of anybody. Being a train must be like knowing for sure you’re gonna work for KFC for the rest of your life.
You have to wonder how exactly this civilization is gonna progress. They don’t like to drive everywhere themselves, but other than that one truck’s ass they don’t seem to have any other form of transportation. Maybe the train’s ass, but I’m not sure if he’s hollow. In the future will cars begin to build other cars to drive in? They already built a road-fixing machine, so clearly it’s not out of the question for cars to build and operate machines. Would living cars driving inanimate cars cause an ethics debate? Or would it just be creepy?
Where does their gas come from? Does it come from dinosaur fossils like ours did? What type of cars were the dinosaurs of car world? What does a car fossil look like? Are their chassis on display in museums?
Have cars gone to space yet? I guess there must be living space shuttles. Will they ever discover life on other planets, and if so will the life be cars? Maybe just microscopic spore cars on Mars?
Because the founder of the town is no longer there, we know that cars can die. But do they die of old age or do they only die in wrecks? Do they feel pain? How far can a mechanic ethically go in saving an ailing car? How many parts can be replaced before a car is no longer himself? In other words, what part holds a car’s soul?
And hell, as long as we’re talking about the car soul we might as well hit on religion. Is there such a thing in car world? An all powerful being who built the cars? Is there a car Jesus? Maybe the Tucker Torpedo? Are there different religions and hell, do they have wars? I guess there must be tanks off somewhere fighting wars. So it’s kind of like our army, there’s a whole class doomed to military service and all the Suburbans and Volvos and everybody get to stay home and not worry about it.
I’m assuming there’s war in car world because I’m assuming there’s religion and if there’s car religion there’s car war. But when will it end? How can you have peace when you have members of your society born as tanks and bomber jets and shit? Isn’t it kind of a self fulfilling prophecy? And if you stop war, isn’t it unfair to these individuals, to erase their whole purpose in life? They were born that way. Who are we to judge what they do?
Other than those few questions everything is pretty much answered, not a bad talking car movie at all, I would recommend it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.