Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Our fine four-fendered friend

I saw Cars with the family several months ago, but never posted about it. So now I'll post about it. (Some of this will be spoilerish.)

Seeing Cars was a delightful couple of hours in the theater, in pretty much the same way that it's always delightful to see a new Pixar movie: there are tons of in-jokes, humorous asides, and visual invention a-plenty. The story of Cars really isn't anything new whatsoever. It's something of a mashup between the "Man Who Learned Better" basic plot and the kind of "elegy for a simpler time" tale that Pixar's done before, primarily in the Toy Story movies and, to a lesser extent, in The Incredibles.

Cars takes quite a while to really get going, plot-wise. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the film's theme involves the idea that modern life has become too fast anyway; and although this probably wasn't a reason for making the movie's pace so slack, it does help get used to the film's central conceit that these cars are living beings.

I suppose that's what bugs me about Cars when I think back about it. Toy Story posited a secret life of toys, but it was a smaller world within a human one. The monster world of Monsters Inc. also existed parallel with the human world, so in both cases there was a kind of logic to the way things worked. In Cars, the cars are the beings that populate their world, and that's it. So, I'm wondering, who built the buildings? Why would the rock outcroppings be shaped like the fins of an old 50s gas-guzzler? I loved the idea that farm tractors are the big dumb cows of the car world, but -- well, why are there tractors? Why is there even agriculture?

I know, it's missing the point to ask questions like that. But I kept having this "off" feeling while watching the movie, and I think that questions like that are why. I just couldn't bring myself to totally buy into the movie's scenario.

Again, though, it's not a bad movie at all. I liked it more than A Bug's Life, for instance. I loved the movie's constant parade of jokes about cars and car-stuff, from cameos by the Magliozzi brothers ("Don't drive like my brother!") to the French roadsters and whatnot. I especially loved the continuation of Pixar's attention to visual detail, and their use of visuals that no one else would even think to include.

An example of this occurs early in the film, while the race-car star of the movie (don't recall his name) is riding in the back of his transport truck, and there's an incredibly brief shot of the truck's shadow on the side of the road. The shadow changes shape with the contour of the side of the road in a way that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever went on a long drive as a child and had nothing to do but stare out the window at the undulations of the car's shadow. It's the kind of thing that we don't much think about when we're adults, when we take books on our long drives and don't spend much time staring out the window at our own shadows.

Anyway, I liked Cars. But not as much as some previous Pixar movies.


Eric said...

That would be the great Lightning McQueen that you are talkin' 'bout.

mickey said...

Maybe the tractors are used for biodiesel..?