January 16, 2012
To be sure, there is nothing original about the plot. Cars is a point-for-point retelling of the "arrogant big shot ends up in little town, learns life lesson" trope that Garrison Keillor has been parodying for years on Prairie Home Companion.
Doc Hollywood with Michael J. Fox is a good example (car included).
This again goes to my contention that the most creative and lasting art is accomplished by artists (John Lasseter being one of the best) who not only know how to do things the old-fashioned way, but understand the value of doing things the old-fashioned way.
What's prosaic and persistently unoriginal are those "avant guarde" types who think they are being "original" and "daring" by upending these familiar stories and betraying the expectations inherent in them.
But John Lasseter didn't simply do the same only better. With the story solidly nailed down, he unleashed his animators to create whole freaking alternate universe (including an alternate universe Pixar Animation Studios).
We're talking about world-building on a massively creative scale, and a mechanical world at that, down to the insects (which are, of course, Volkswagon Beetles; lightning bugs leave on the turn signals). Not a human being in sight.
A nostalgic romp through small-town Americana alone would have been a tad too sentimental for my tastes (Frank Capra annoys me too). Thankfully, Lasseter married this trusty old tale to a full-blooded celebration of the gas-guzzling American car culture.
And that most American of motor sports, NASCAR (which, like American football, is far more sophisticated than the aristocratic European versions). And then tied that squarely to the American landscape and those wide-open spaces the car was designed to serve.
The car and the freeway have evolved together to fit a unique ecological niche no less than Darwin's finches. So it makes perfect sense to depict the automobile as a vibrant, sentient, argumentative creature with a say about where the road is going to take us next.
Forget about robots taking over the world. Cars already have. We're just along for the ride.