Losing My Virginity: Cars


[Losing My Virginity articles are reviews written by someone who still hasn’t seen an incredibly popular movie after all these years. LMV reviews are interesting in that they can offer the perspective of a person who’s untainted by the cloud of commonness that surrounded a famous film of the past, and also show how well it has stood the test of time.]

I’m 24 years old and as such, Toy Story came into my life when its influence on me would be at a level of maximum potential. Since then, Pixar has released a plethora of films that have caused its viewers to run the gamut of emotions experienced in short, ~100 minute bursts.

Of course, given their 15+ years of being one of the best film studios, there are gonna be some films that just don’t measure up to its brethren. Cars is one such film. However, while it might not be at the same level as the majority of Pixar’s catalog, it’s still better than the majority of other CGI-animated films out there.

Since this is an LMV Review, I want to do something different with my approach. A lot has been said about Cars possibly being the worst of Pixar’s films and I admittedly had that notion in my head while watching it. Acknowledging this, it’s not fair to write a traditional review the same way I write the majority of my reviews. Rather, I want to highlight and illustrate certain points I found troublesome with the film. LET THE GREAT EXPERIMENT BEGIN!

The first thing that popped into my head was how a world can exist where its inhabitants are machines. Sure, you can cite various vehicles playing specific roles in the crafting of society (i.e. construction trucks, etc.), but it’s still hard to believe. Look at me, saying it’s hard to believe a children’s animated film that involves sentient cars. But I think therein lies the problem of why Cars isn’t as warmly received as the other Pixar films.

A long time ago, I read that audiences tend to like media where they can empathize and relate to its characters/protagonists. Of course, you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve found it very easily to relate to Woody/Buzz/Mike Wazowski/Marlin/etc. despite not being a toy/monster/fish.” The main thing with animated characters are their anthropomorphisms. We tend to relate to characters that have human features, which is why such characters have exaggerated facial features and are bipedal.

The fundamental problem with Cars that I had a problem with was my inability to get over the fact that they were just that: cars. It bugged me to no end how I couldn’t immerse myself in the world because I was attempting to work the universe’s logic. For example, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is a race car and races in a sport exactly like NASCAR. However, in this universe, is he technically running? Is it fair to assume his tires are essentially his feet? Why does he take gas in his gas tank when he has a mouth? Other characters do.

Because of this lack of basic connection to the character, we can’t connect to the story. So despite director John Lasseter’s appeal to make us feel for Lightning and his cars in arms, we just can’t. What we’re then left with is a cliche story about a spotlight-stealing attention whore who, after being forced to lead a simple and humble life, is able to redeem himself and his ways not only for himself, but for the community around him. Spoiler: This is the same basic plot for 90% of films in existence, especially when looking at Pixar’s catalog. However, what makes us overlook that fact, or possibly even find ourselves endeared to the idea, is our interest in the characters.

For a lack of a better term, the cars in Cars are boring. Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is a hillbilly tow-truck living a simple life, Sally (Bonnie Hunt) is of the princess/savior/love interest archetype that helps the protagonist find the errors in his ways, and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) is the wise authority figure who, through a shocking twist, made the exact same mistakes the protagonist did in his heyday. Yawn. Again, this is chalked up to the inability to empathize with cars as actual characters and not vehicles meant to serve a secondary purpose to society.

Another problem is, well… the narrative is just as boring as the characters themselves. Besides the aforementioned cliche story of redemption, there’s no real villain to root against. Yes, I understand that a film (or any form of media) doesn’t need an antagonist for a story to progress and develop, but it definitely helps, especially for a children’s film. Instead, you’re left with this internal conflict Lightning has and a temporary external conflict he has with the residents of Radiator Springs. The main thing with all good Pixar films is a sense of adventure. Unfortunately, Cars is sorely lacking in one.

Of course, there’s always gonna be some redeeming feature, no matter how miniscule it may be. For Cars, it’s how absolutely gorgeous it looks. Radiator Springs, especially in one of the penultimate scenes, looks stunning. Amazing CGI is expected from Pixar at this point, but that doesn’t stop you from marveling at the wonders of the screen.

Cars, as a whole, fails because of its flat characters and boring story. Not only is the story boring, it’s absolutely not funny AT ALL. I didn’t laugh or chuckle or anything until the end credits scene. That’s sad. While it may still be better than a handful of films from other studios, it simply can’t compare to most of Pixar’s other offerings. They’re allowed three strikes, and I honestly believe Cars was their second strike (the first being A Bug’s Life). With the upcoming Cars 2, I’m not entirely sure Pixar is aware that they only have one more strike left to spare. Oh hey, also a reference to cars because they have spare tires.

5.00 – Bad. (5s are movies that either failed at reaching the goals it set out to do, or didn’t set out to do anything special and still had many flaws. Some will enjoy 5s, but unless you’re a fan of this genre, you shouldn’t see it, and might not even want to rent it.)

As a fun little extra (and to show props to Andres), I’m adding some of the quirky notes/thoughts I had while watching Cars. I hope it helps give you insight on my thought process.

  • Did Tia and Mia just flash Lightning McQueen?!
  • How do cars die? How do they reproduce? Who makes them?
  • Since they have mouths and gas tanks, do they take gas (essentially) up the butt?
  • How did Doc Hudson get his racing tires on without help?
  • It took 90 minutes before Larry the Cable Guy could say, “Git-R-Done.” Almost made it through the whole movie without that one. Damn.
  • What?! Toy Car Story, Monster Trucks, Inc., A Bug’s Life?! Why is this end credits scene the only funny one in the whole movie?