Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pixar gets its kicks on Route 66

Friday's Mannion Family Movie Night. Pixar's Cars.

Strange, strange movie.

Strange, strange concept.

The boys didn't have a problem identifying with the anthropomorphic cars, but I just couldn't get my head around the idea of a world "peopled," built, and run by automotive machines. I can become perversely literal-minded when movies demand that I suspend too much of my disbelief. I kept saying to myself, I guess the cars reproduce by assembling new cars, but who built the first car?

I had a similar problem with Robots, but I managed to convince myself that I was looking at a toy world that had taken on an independent reality of its own and somewhere far out of sight of the camera, out of the characters' thoughts, was the very clever 11 year old with an erector set who was this universe's indifferent God.

But the cars of Cars don't live in a mechanical world or a toy world. They live in a geographically realistic United States inhabited by automotive alter egos of real people---Arnold Schwarzenegger is still the governor of California. He's also a Hummer.

Creeped me out.

But besides that, despite the fact that the cars have moving mouths, the voices still did not seem to be coming from them, so I never forgot I was listening to Owen Wilson and Paul Newman and Cheech Marin. The actors' personalities didn't transfer. Consequently, it was as if I was watching one movie, a cartoon with cars acting like people, while listening to another movie, a live-action comedy that happened to have almost the same plot as the cartoon, and I wanted to see that comedy.

Instead of watching a talking Hudson Hornet with the voice of Paul Newman drive itself at top speed down a dirt road to prove to itself it was still a racing car at heart, I wanted to watch Paul Newman climb into an old Hudson Hornet and speed down a dirt road to prove to himself he could still handle a race car.

I felt the same way about all the characters. I wanted to watch Owen Wilson learn the lesson that winning races isn't the only important thing in life. I wanted to watch Cheech Marin tell the story of how he met and fell in love with his wife while Jenifer Lewis performs karaoke in the background. And I wanted to watch Michael Keaton as Wilson's cheating rival get his comeupance.

The only characters I accepted as talking vehicles were Larry the Cable Guy's towtruck and John Ratzenberger's semi. Maybe trucks are more like people than cars are.

But that's me. Like I said, the guys enjoyed it, the blonde thought it was cute, and I was glad that at least there weren't any morals. No cars were told to follow their hearts/engines. No cars had to be true to themselves. And unlike an awful lot of kids' movies these days, Cars very specifically rejects the idea that happiness is a matter of being a version of a celebrity.

In fact, as with most Pixar movies, the makers of Cars are most interested in telling their story for the story's own sake. Pixar is happy with the idea of movies as entertainment and their filmmakers don't go out of their way to teach lessons.

But there was one odd thing about Cars. It did seem to be pushing an idea. A rather peculiar idea, considering its audience.

It seemed to be trying to instill in the kids watching it a nostalgia for Route 66. The road and the song.

Now you go through Saint Louis
Joplin, Missouri,
and Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona.
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Won't you get hip to this timely tip
and take that California trip
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.

Won't you get hip to this timely tip:
when you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on on Route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.


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