By Laurance Yap
You wouldn’t think it possible to get teary-eyed at an animated movie where cars are people. Trust me, it is.
It isn’t Cars’ story that gets me teary-eyed. In the end, it’s a pretty conventional plot with themes that most car enthusiasts – and movie buffs – are already aware of. The death of the open road, the lack of time to stop and smell the roses, and the coming-of-age story are skilfully served up with a side order of true love, but they don’t really get to you.
What gets to you is that throughout the whole movie, you’re constantly aware that Cars, the movie, was made by a team that deeply love cars. If you watch racing on TV, you’ll recognize the sweeping camera angles from the Piston Cup races as ones you’ve seen at the Indy 500 or any NASCAR super-speedway race. The landscapes they drive through are like a greatest-hits package of scenes from along Route 66. Rock formations look like 1959 Cadillac tail fins; the local motel in Radiator Springs is a set of giant traffic pylons. During the racing scenes, precisely rendered rubber “marbles” are scattered towards the camera as the cars go roaring by.
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The cars in Cars are cute and cuddly so that kids will like them, but they’re accurate enough that grown-up car freaks will have their breath taken away. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has a flappy stock-car body that doesn’t resemble any recognizable domestic sedan – kind of like the real thing, then. Sally Carrera, the Porsche 911 voiced by Bonnie Hunt, is correct down to the noise her engine makes and even the pop-up rear spoiler that conceals her tattoo. When Michael Schumacher makes a cameo (as a Ferrari F430), you can see the Ferrari logos on his brake calipers. (Luigi, the Tifoso Fiat 500 who owns the Casa Della Tires, nearly faints when Schumacher makes his entrance. “Ferrari? This is the most glorious day of my life.”)
Cars is more than just a movie for the Pixar team; it’s like a love letter to all things automotive. During the end credits – which you must stay for, as Pixar movies have a tradition of “easter eggs” at the finish – and after the names of hundreds of animators and artists is a list of all of the places the team stopped at along Route 66 while researching the movie. Then there’s a list of people that served as inspirations in the world of cars, racing, and all things automotive.
Even if this movie had a lousy story, it would still be a towering technical achievement. But for car enthusiasts, it’s much more: it’s an overt validation of their priorities in life. It’s also a vehicle (ahem) to explain to those who don’t love cars as much as we do just what we find so fascinating and attractive about them. Walking out of the theatre, I saw a lot of people that probably never “got it” about the car hobby nodding their heads, thinking, okay, I can kind of see what other people see in those machines.