Cars 2: An Assessment
Is Pixar on the verge of jumping the cultural shark?
Pixar has always exemplified competent film-making. All of their movies have been consistently well-done in both writing and production. If you are a geek like myself, and have ever taken the time to watch the documentaries that come on the DVDs telling how the film was made, or sit through the movie and watch it with the audio commentary turned on, you know the heart, soul, and passion the entire animation team put in to their work. In a way, it is like they see themselves as crafting a piece of art, not just making a movie.
In my opinion, I haven’t seen a “bad” Pixar film yet. I have ranked in my mind my favorites, but all of them are brilliant and contain their own endearing charm.
The original Cars is like that. It wasn’t one of my favorites at first. When I saw the trailer, I wondered how they were going to pull off the concept of anamorphic talking automobiles. I didn’t see it when it was released in the theater, but I waited until it came out on video. I thought it was fun, but I thought it was “okay.” As always, Pixar did a masterful job tackling the subject of talking cars, but I was more of a The Incredibles fan.
Because I have three boys who like Matchbox and Hot Wheels, Nana got them the video for Christmas. I cannot say how many times I have “watched” it on Saturday mornings, but somewhere around the 14th viewing, the movie began to grow on me and I was appreciating it more than when I first saw it. In fact, I imagine the DVD release is what made the characters so popular across the world. It’s Pixar genius really. Little kids, boys in particular, love cars. When the parents need a “baby-sitter” for 80 minutes, Cars is the perfect thing to throw in the player.
Added to that is Disney’s line of Hot Wheel cars modeled after the characters, because what did my kids want for Christmas and birthdays now? And on top of that, the “Car toons” videos featuring Mater the tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, manufactures a climate just begging for a second, full-length feature film with all the Cars characters. That is exactly what we got this past summer.
Cars 2 has recently been released on DVD and being on my sons’ wish list for Christmas I’m caused to reflect on the film. Unlike the first one, I did see Cars 2 in the theater. I even made a special trip down to Burbank to watch it at the cavernous AMC theater complex.
The gist of the story is simple. In this outing, Lightning McQueen has been invited to participate in the international world grand prix that will be held in Japan, Italy, and England. While this international racing championship is going on, Mater, who is tagging along as the crew chief, gets himself entangled in espionage with a couple of James Bond-like characters who mistakenly believe he is an American operative who holds a piece of valuable information. Thus the comedy mayhem ensues.
Like all their previous films, the animation was glorious to behold. One can only marvel at the painstaking attention to scrutinizing detail that comes from this team of animators. The movie also has the right amount of inside, adult humor in the story and visuals that is barely over the heads of the children in order to keep the parents entertained.
Yet, in spite of that Pixar magic, the film veers off course in an unusual direction.
Running through the entire movie as the main sub-plot is a message of muddled environmentalism. The bad guy in the movie is an oil tycoon who wants to discredit the use of alternative fuels so he can control all the oil reserves. (He’s probably a Republican, too). I see this plot line, however, as a troubling exposure of a deeper agenda.
Pixar, I believe, has reached a place in the hearts of average Americans where people trust them. Their films are not only well done production-wise, but also tell a heartwarming story with a moral at the end extoling the good values of friendship, faithfulness, overcoming fears, and family.
But now that they have earned this place, I believe we are seeing the beginnings of them exploiting that trust. Within the last 12 years or so, Pixar’s films never had a hint of leftist activism in them. They were politically “neutral” so to speak. Probably the first one to hint at any sort of activism was Wall-E, which, according to the critics, was a movie slamming capitalist consumerism and promoting environmentalism. I could see what they meant with that movie, but I saw Wall-E as more of a science fiction film, and what good is a futuristic sci-fi movie without an apocalyptic hellscape? Though maybe the makers at Pixar had in mind subtle hints of environmentalism, I saw the demise of the earth by pollution in the context of the larger story about the robot.
There is no subtly with Cars 2; it screams in your face. John Lasseter, who directed the film, even stated in an interview he wanted to get across a clear environmentalist message. So I am not shooting in the dark when I offer my objections.
The problem, however, with this new found push in activist film-making, is that it causes the storyline to suffer. At the risk of sounding like some Star Wars geek complaining about the logical continuity problems in Episode I, let me give an example of what I mean.
All through the movie there are occasional comments made by the characters talking about pollution, dirty air, and a clean environment. But think about it for a moment? Why would automobiles care about environmental activism? They’re automobiles, not people. Green technology and recycling really has no bearing on them.
But before you dismiss me, think a moment about the sub-plot of an oil tycoon who wants to discredit alternative fuels. What is it that makes automobiles run? In other words, what is their “food?” To have cars talking about how their “food” is bad and ruins the environment is sort of strange, don’t you think? Maybe someone can argue that they wanted to promote strict vegetarianism rather than environmentalism, but I find such an argument in the context of a movie about talking cars who depend upon oil to survive a bit weird.
Moreover is the hint of bigotry woven into the story with the main bad guys. They are lemons; you know classic defective automobiles like American Motors Gremlin or the Chrysler LeBaron. One of the motivations for their criminal activities was due to them being shunned by the other cars because of their lemon status. They were second class citizens in the Cars world.
Now, whether the animators intended this or not, I left the movie with the impression that the reason for their crooked, pro-oil ways had to do with them being defective. It was their handicap that made them bad. Rather than being pitied, because that’s just the way they are made, being a lemon could potentially stir up major personality flaws. Anyone see any major inconsistencies with a team of animators who more than likely believe homosexual orientation is “normal” human behavior?
Maybe I’m reading way too much into this, but I took it as something of a jab against the character of any oil producer or anti-environmentalist. I, as a conservative who believes environmentalism is an enormous waste of time and money let alone a religious cult, am defective at heart, which makes me a “lemon.”
Whatever the case may be, it is undeniable that Pixar is moving into the promotion of leftist causes in their films. And for liberals who operate according to a leftist ideology, what is the biggest leftist issue currently in America they would like promoted in the psyche of their young audience?
Consider their animated short “Day and Night” that ran before Toy Story 3. It was a bizarre cartoon featuring two androgynous egg-shaped characters who were suppose to represent how people need to get along with each other in spite of their “differences.” A speech is heard on a radio station toward the end of the short in which the narrator says the unknown should not be feared but embraced. Say what you will, it was an indictment against any group (Oh, I don’t know – like evangelical Christians) that is perceived as being rigid and unyielding with their convictions.
If you think I am mistaken about this move toward homosexual advocacy, take a look at the video put together by a group of the main animators at Pixar studios exhorting homosexual youth that life “only gets better” if you merely embrace who you truly are as gay.
I don’t know how far away it is, but I’ll bet with in the next few years, Pixar will be releasing a film featuring either a story with homosexual undertones, or a key character who is gay. It is just a matter of time.
It is regrettable, because this otherwise fine film company is on their way to jumping the cultural shark.