Movie Review - Cars

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John Lassater/Joe Ranft
Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

Okay. How do I say this? I like Pixar. I really do. (That’s not the shocking part; that’s the preface). And I really don’t like writing negative reviews. I especially don’t like writing really negative reviews about a movie that people I really like are really fond of. But such is life.

It isn’t as if
Cars had no good qualities, and that is part of what makes this review so unpleasant to write. Pixar had no rivals, in my opinion. Their art was incredible. Cars, far from being an exception to a good rule, went far beyond what I would have thought possible in recoupably-priced computer animation at that time (facial expressions aside, perhaps. Cars don’t give you much to start with). If the story and the ethics had matched the images, this movie would have found itself in a category that is very, very seldom seen in my archives: the “You Really Ought to See This One” category. Unfortunately, even the story, which was clean enough, was too predictable to take the movie farther than “Recommendable”. He came, he saw, he did the right thing, and he conquered where it really mattered. You know the type. The way characters interact with each other is pretty foreseeable, and the way earlier “lessons” are incorporated into the climax is actually quite boring. Stereotypes abound. Still, I could have enjoyed the film—preaching, typecasting and all—if the morality had been on a level with the moral. Alas, no such luck.

Violent and Intense Content:
For a G-rated movie designed to sell toys, Cars was violent. Cars was intense. Crashes of varied size and severity (that is, from near crashes to what would have meant death, if humans had been involved) are peppered throughout the film. The downside to all of that life-like animation is that the danger (if automobiles can be in danger) looks real. Competitive racing turns aggressive a few times, and a few fairly intense scenes (which will receive further comment) involve a serious risk of self-annihilation. A daydream-sequence features images of what appear to be alien robots blasting innocent vehicles to dust particles. Former fans react to a disappointing hero by throwing objects at him, and this is supposed to be a good thing.


The sarcasm is irritating at best, amusing at worst. The slang is profuse, varied and far from mild. Characters are derided for their intellectual simplicity with a few different names and adjectives, as well as “hated”, “eaten” and “whatever-ed”. Euphemisms (and sometimes straight synonyms) for God and the theme of eternal suffering pop up every few minutes. It would not be in the best interests of those who may read this for me to provide a blow-by-blow account of the more serious language issues, but it is necessary to inform viewers that PG-13 terms are suggested in vague but highly inappropriate (and absolutely unnecessary) attempts at adult humor.

Sexual Content:
The sexual content is in the same style. The innuendoes are bound to go right over the heads of the younger viewers, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear them repeated when the movie’s over. The plays on words (“body”, as a mild example) are meant to be catchy enough to draw attention, and, I assume, to amuse the grown-ups. And if the subtle was not bad enough, the clear is probably worse. The good guy/bad guy distinction is strong enough to create a negative impression of some of the inappropriate behavior, but children may have a harder time understanding that the protagonist, at the beginning of the movie, is not meant to be a model of Christian conduct. In fact, and unfortunately, there isn’t really all that much difference between the pre-change-of-heart good guy and the post-change-of-heart good guy, as far as choice of words (or subjects) goes.

“Just stand there and let me look at you” is not the response the modesty-conscious want their appearance to generate, nor is “I want to get a look at that sexy…” well, it happens to be “hotrod”, but it’s still offensive. The ten-second bit about a “pinstripe tattoo” (with an unspoken play on its physical location on the back of the car) and the short but awkward exploration of the phrase “stay with” feel out of place, let alone undesirable, generally. A featured bumper sticker reads “Nice Butte”.

“Life is a journey. Enjoy the trip” (tagline). Or “… life is about the journey, not the finish line” (DVD case). Both somewhat flawed, the latter more so1. “Don’t need to know where I’m going; just need to know where I’ve been.” That’s ridiculous, but the writers evidently didn’t think so. “I am speed” is the protagonist’s favorite warm-up line. That’s also ridiculous… and those are just the verbalized worldview problems.

Feminism is ubiquitous. You can’t escape it. That doesn’t mean we can’t try, though. The town attorney is female, and the town attorney is also the smart one of the bunch. She’s the
correct one of the bunch. She’s the attractive one, the one that the main character makes a fool of himself over in the first few minutes of their acquaintance, the one that he dislikes from there on out, and the one that dislikes him… until they fall for each other, of course. That is too complex an issue to delve into, with my word-budget running out, but it’s not good; nor is it what we want in real life.

Illegal activity is not good, either. The protagonist violates sundry traffic laws, most of the time with no consequences. He tries to beat a train to the crossing, which breaks both state and moral law2. He tries to evade a police officer, as well as the charges, trial and sentence which follow. He is involved in “tractor [cow] tipping”, and told by his accomplice to say that they were only out smashing mailboxes. None of these offenses are really resolved.

And there’s the police car, himself; not someone particularly worthy of respect, or of obedience. The judge merely rules on instinct and prejudice, and the lawyer wins the case by garnering support from the lesser intellects with a blatant appeal-to-pity speech that condemns the defendant not because the punishment necessarily fits the crime, but because other cars are about to lose their jobs… hypothetically.

One of the supporting characters is a “the sixties weren’t good to you” hippie, complete with conspiracy theories and an appreciation for Jimi Hendrix.

The soundtrack for
Cars is a mix (alternation, not combination) of driving electric guitar and country fiddle, and a lot of lyrics. Some of the songs brag about egotistical and illegal behavior, some fantasize about romantic relationships, and others take the idea that getting lost on a road trip is the best method for finding oneself3.

Now, how about the setting of the film itself? We’ve come this far already. Let’s question car racing. It is a professional sport, which comes pretty close to a contradiction in terms. It is a dangerous sport4. Men and women have died for the pleasure of driving in circles for three to five hours, at speeds greater than can be achieved in a Cessna. Either that, or they do it for the money. I would suggest that neither motive justifies the risk or the meaninglessness of the accomplishment. So, building an entire film around stock car racing is at best inviting us to ignore its inherent evils; at worst, it asks us to take actual pleasure in them. There. I’ve had my say on that topic… for now.

Again I say that I am not glad to be writing a negative review of this one, and if you’re the sort of person who would watch a movie strictly for the sake of seeing the animation techniques, I suppose you could watch it with the sound turned off. That still wouldn’t fix everything, and I doubt there are many people who want to spend two hours watching a movie without dialogue or music (whatever they may feel like watching for three to five hours). My opinion of the artwork is unchanged by the presence of offensive content, and it is a great shame that it should have been wasted on a film of this caliber. If you want to see Pixar at its best, look elsewhere. The best that
Cars can get from me is a generous Not Worth Watching.

1 Of the second quote, the first part is about a road trip, the second part about a race, which are not compatible analogies. Besides, 1 Corinthians 9:24 would tend to disagree with them.

2 Exodus 20:13. See also the Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 68 and 69.

3 “Real Gone”, “Sh-Boom”, “Find Yourself”, etc.

4 Since the beginning of the sport there have been, according to the Motorsport Memorial website, more than 3,990 drivers, 1,528 spectators, by-passers and by-standers, 50 photographers, journalists, TV and radio operators, and 919 other individuals, killed during the races throughout the years, and 67 fatalities in 2009 alone.

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