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Pixar Talk: Cars

by on October 21, 2011
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Every week, Austin is going to have a chat with Victoria Disque about a Pixar film. This is all leading up to a speech Austin will be giving about Pixar at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in Muncie on December 9th. Victoria is a producer of The Reel Deal and is currently majoring in telecommunications at Ball State University.


Austin: We’ve hinted at my hatred of “Cars” for weeks and weeks. Do you have a hatred of “Cars”?

Victoria: No, I don’t have a hatred. It’s definitely not one of my favorites. I just think it’s “all right,” not terrible.

Austin: This was my first time watching it since the theater. There were moments when I was thinking that I’ve been too hard on the movie. Then a second later, it reversed again. Like the movie starts off with Lightning talking with a black screen. He has this good voiceover where he’s saying, “Speed…speed…” to pump himself up for the race. This is relatable and good. Then you realize he’s in a truck whose only design is to hold other cars and then I became immediately distracted trying to figure out that vehicle’s existence.

The movie is a weird balancing act. In every other Pixar film, you get the world through their exposition scenes. I’m now two films in and I still don’t get this world and that’s weird.

Victoria: I don’t even think about that. I just focus on the characters. I don’t try to put together things like “If their wheels are hands, how do they build anything?”

Austin: Who builds the cars?!?

Victoria: This is a kids’ movie. The others were aimed a bit more towards adults, but this is purely for the kids. My nephew totally buys the world.

Austin: Maybe I just missed the age when — nah, I was even snarky when I was a kid. It’s odd. We’ve had inanimate objects from “Toy Story” and they’ve established Fisher Price makes the toys. Once they assemble, they exist and we get that.

In “Cars,” I question it when the movie addresses it. It’s not just me going, “How do their eyes make any sense?” But then again, their eyes don’t make any sense! They have characters who are romantically interested in each other. In “Toy Story,” the characters were more looking for love and companions. Here, Lightning and Sally try to kiss each other. And whenever Mater tows somebody, there is the shot of the car feeling violated like it’s a probing joke. It’s weird.

Victoria: Right. I don’t care about that. Now, we’ve talked in the past about how Pixar has found the perfect actors for each character. With this one, it feels like they knew who they wanted already and then built a character around the actor. Like Mater, they had to figure they were already thinking of Larry the Cable Guy. From there, it seems like they decided the rusty buck-toothed car would fit him.

Austin: Yeah, it almost feels like they thought of a personality for the car and then the actor and then the character. What would fit for this car?

Victoria: In this, the lead voice is Owen Wilson. In the past, I recognized a lead voice and then moved back on to the story. Here, I only heard Owen Wilson. He doesn’t have the most distinct voice but I still only heard him.

Austin: So did I, the whole time. It’s odd because his major competitor in the racing world is voiced by Michael Keaton. I love Michael Keaton! He had such a natural voice, but right now I’m thinking Michael Keaton could have been the lead. Keaton could easily be the villain or the likable lovable “Mr. Mom” hero.

Victoria: I think Owen Wilson brought a younger voice to the character. As if he was in his early 20s.

Austin: That’s true. You need the age difference between him and Paul Newman.

Victoria: Paul Newman. It’s too bad this was his last movie. At least he ended on a Pixar film, but it’s sad this is the Pixar movie he ended on.

This is my nephew’s favorite movie. So I get a kick out of the parts he laughs at. He really loves the two Italian cars, Luigi and Guido. He also really loves the old car, the old Model T. She’s the one not right in the head. I love the supporting cars. Then there is the VW Bug that is selling their equivalent of weed? That’s just weird.

Austin: You know, there was one bit of casting I thought was really easy. They cast Jeremy Piven as the agent who is always on the phone. It’s just the same character from “Entourage.” Come on, Pixar! You can think of a cleverer pick than that.

Victoria: That was easy.

Austin: I think the weirdest character thing in this movie is that, unlike all other Pixar films, their heroes have flaws but the film doesn’t judge them for it. Woody is insecure, Flik is too eccentric, Marlin can’t let go, etc. But the characters aren’t constantly telling them those flaws. “Cars” was only that. The first half of the movie is everyone telling Lightning what was wrong with his life. His lifestyle is wrong. You’ll be fine by the end of the film, but right now, you’re wrong. That’s limiting because now you know where the movie is going because it’ll only be about fixing that lifestyle.

I really didn’t like that. It was lazier storytelling than we’ve come to expect from Pixar.

Victoria: I think that’s just it. This one seemed lazy in comparison with the others. Perhaps, they were just burnt out. This is still decent, but it’s not Pixar level.

Austin: Yeah, I’ll give it a C. It’s just an uneven movie. Also, I might as well make this rant now. It’s the plot of “Doc Hollywood,” which is not a great movie. Have you seen it?

Victoria: Nah.

Austin: The plot of “Doc Hollywood” is that Michael J. Fox is a plastic surgeon but everyone judges him that he needs to be a proper doctor. One day on his way to Los Angeles to become a bigger plastic surgeon, he crashes his car into a small town and breaks their fence and other stuff. He’s not allowed to leave the small town until he fixes the fence and that’s where he learns how to be a true doctor.

Victoria: That sounds ridiculous. Maybe they were … inspired by “Doc Hollywood”?

Austin: I think they have carefully avoided talking about “Doc Hollywood” in every interview. Like how the cast of “Disturbia” wasn’t supposed to talk about “Rear Window” during that press.

I was 16 when this came out. So I’m just outside the target audience, but even I’m in the theater going, “Hey, I have a public library. I’ve seen ‘Doc Hollywood’!” Having “A Bug’s Life” as Pixar’s take on “The Seven Samurai,” considered one of the greatest films of all time, makes a bit of sense. Doing a take on “Doc Hollywood” is … how many takes can you do on that?

Hell, they should have just gotten Michael J. Fox for the voice of the lead! That would have been great!

Victoria: That would have been really good. He still sounds young enough.

Austin: Also, he has the charisma to be selfish and still likable. Then again, this would make it too much like “Doc Hollywood,” which is why they didn’t do it.

Victoria: Which would you say is better: “Doc Hollywood” or “Cars”?

Austin: “Doc Hollywood” because it has people in it, so I understood it! Switching gears — eh! — what did you think of the racing scenes?

Victoria: I thought they were OK. Nothing really great, but I don’t find actual racing exciting. Yet I guess this isn’t like real racing. This is more like a foot race since they are cars. Lightning is the Usain Bolt of the car world. So if you look at it that way, then it makes sense that the cars can jump over other cars that have crashed.

Austin: I think the weird thing here — and it’s worse in “Cars 2” — is that it’s difficult to see how hard they’re going. When you watch “Chariots of Fire,” the runners are sweating and struggling. In this, whenever a car passes another, it seems casual.

Victoria: They just say, “Oh man, they passed me.” Just go faster! But I guess it’s about how much horse power they have. How they were built. It’s not like they were working hard to go faster.

Austin: It’s like the midichlorians.

Victoria: (Blank look.)

Austin: The readers will get that. So it’s better in this one, but in the big race here, he’s down by an entire lap. It’s hard to figure out how much he needs to work to catch up. Then he goes to the pit stop to talk to Doc without getting anything changed. You have a headset! Just talk to him! You’re in a race!

Victoria: I did like the ending, though. The King crashes and he’ll be exactly like Doc if he doesn’t go across the finish line. So Lightning goes back and gets him after he grows a heart and forfeits the race. Classic Pixar.

Austin: I thought it was OK. It’s just really convenient. It’s just like Doc, and it’s a moment for Lightning to define himself. It’s not as much as a sacrifice because everyone knows he won. It’s not like it’s a close race. Everyone has declared him the winner. History will remember him as the “real winner” because he made a noble effort. It just made him look really good. You need the moment, but it was the easy moment.

Victoria: I just don’t what else they would do there.

Austin: Neither did they! That’s why it’s in there. Anywho, do you find Mater funny?

Victoria: I guess so. He’s grown on me like the rest of the movie. Back when I was a freshman in high school, he didn’t work. I don’t like Larry the Cable Guy’s comedy, but this character is endearing. He’s not just a stupid hillbilly. He’s more of a manchild.

Austin: The way Mater interacts with the town reminds me of Nick Frost from “Hot Fuzz.” He’s a bigger guy, a bit dumb, but his heart is in the right place. Mater is louder and more obnoxious than Frost, but I still like the character. He works as a supporting character.

Victoria: I didn’t hate “Cars 2” like everyone else did …

Austin: Just wait a few more weeks!

Victoria: But that was a mistake to make him the lead in that movie and Lightning the supporting character. Mater works better as a supporting character.

Austin: There is only so much you can tolerate with that dumb energy. He works as a cheerleader, of sorts, to Lightning. I’m not a big fan of the cow-tipping scene, but it is a nice moment to slow the plot down and the let the characters bond with each other. The film does that well quite a few times.

Victoria: You know, I don’t have a problem with the world as much as you. What does bug me is: What are the odds that this small town that isn’t on the map but ends up having two world class race cars in it? Lightning just happens to get lost in the town that has a car similar to him who won the Piston Cup. I know the whole world is a stretch, but that is also a stretch.

Like we said, it just seems very lazy. I still think it’s decent. If I see the full line of Pixar movies, it’s probably the last I’ll watch but it’s still watchable.