At the beginning of Cars, which I have recently watched several times, Lightning McQueen is selfish. At the end, he commits an astonishing act of selflessness. His change is credible, the lesson obvious yet well-conveyed.
It’s a standard lesson for a kids’ flick. The more interesting theme of Cars, which goes pretty deep, is what it says about small towns. Radiator Springs, if not quite a shit hole, has definitely lost its sheen when McQueen arrives by accident (on his way to the big race). He calls it “Hillbilly Hell.” The few people, or I guess they’re all talking cars, who live there are nice and proud, but they’re also pathetic. Luigi, who owns the tire shop, hasn’t had a sale in years. He and his neighbors become whimpering beggars any time a potential customer drives through.
Then their road gets fresh paving, and Luigi decides to paint his store, and pretty soon everyone’s pitching in to make Radiator Springs a little nicer.
James Taylor sings a song in the middle of Cars, over flashbacks explaining through clear, gorgeous visuals that Radiator Springs, nestled among beautiful rock formations along Route 66, once thrived. Then Interstate 40 went in, bypassing the town, and everything slowly crumbled, leaving business owners with frowns on their big car faces, feeling deserted.
This is an extremely effective little commentary on the real history of Route 66, and on the plight of American small towns generally. And because it’s Pixar, the message comes through with hopeful, earnest optimism.
What I really love, though, is that once McQueen finds his soul with the good people-cars of Radiator Springs, it’s VROOM->>> to “the biggest event in the history of racing,” says announcer Bob Cutlass. Little ideas, conflicts, and story pieces pay off in surprising and clever ways over the huge action scene at the end of Cars. It is so much fun.
Kids love this movie. They LOVE it. So while I’m watching a brilliant take on the United States economy, my daughter sees funny talking cars with lots of bright colors zooming around.
It works out great. Cars never gets old.