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After having read James B. Stewart’s amazing book about the “Disney War”, it was essential to watch at least one of the films, the first in many years. The only one around was Cars, so here we go. [Early diversion: it is kind of creepy that after a couple of years of incredibly ill-informed decision-taking, incurring billions in losses and a really messed-up company structure, one single product – like “Who wants to be a Millionaire” on tv, or “Pirates of the Carribean” in the theaters – can completely turn a round such a juggernaut of a company. One key aspect of the book (or rather of the company as such) was its relationship to Pixar. While Disney Animation was struggling to the point of swimming belly-up, Pixar was coming around, suggesting to use all this fancy technology to improve film and animation production. It took many years of struggling until the animation wizards of today saw the light of day. Since the first feature output, Toy Story, Pixar has proven one of the major cash cows of the Disney Empire, however. With John Lasseter (also director of Cars, among others) as head of Disney animation, it will be very interesting to see how strongly the traditional Disney culture will be influenced by the hotshots who only hesitantly abandoned their headquarters that featured a squash court in the lobby. One of the interesting early developments is: Disney will be doing hand-animated features again – after closing them down after some desasters in 2004…]

What the secret behind Pixar is is rather unclear to me. It could be that they, while pushing photo-realistic animation, they never once try to make you believe that you are dealing with people. Most characters in their films are non-human, the others are sufficiently clicheed-over to make them comic-book characters. In Nemo it’s fish, in Monsters, Inc. it’s, yes, monsters (and some kids, admittedly) and in Cars it’s exclusively, yes again, cars. I am sure those were fierce discussion in the early script development process: will it work out, can we make the cars act humanely enough to make sense? If we include that Porsche Carrera love interest, will making love not cause scratches and dents? Will the airbags go off prematurely, causing embarassment? How do you use a gas station in a world where everybody has a couple of wheels, but noone has a hand to use the gas pump?

And to be honest, I think the film mainly works on the level where these aspects don’t matter: where cars are racing around a NASCAR curcuit or through the desert, where the chrome reflects in the sunlight – if you have an interest in that kind of thing (the races are esay enough to be understood – I sometimes wonder, however, whether American authors can possibly imagine how little knowledge or interest the rest of the world has in their national monuments, such as NACAR or that cup everybody appears to be longing for in the film…) . Also the humour comes over allright: Mater (“just like tow-mater, but without them te”, he explains the vegetable origin of his name) is a nice enough fellow and is responsible for the best running gag involving a horn and a couple of tractor-cows (but when Frank comes: run!). Some of the more funny promises are not kept, however, with most of the characters who could supply some sardonic edge (Sarge the Jeep, maybe, or Fillmore the VW camping bus with the Hendrix record) look as if they got lost on the authors’ way through script writing. The film at large is a bit… empty? The hero finds his higher morale and helps the old mate when he gets into trouble, he falls in love with the Porsche and they will surely have a couple of nice white-wall-tired … what: Matell toys?

It may be that I am just not interested (enough) in racing cars and car racing to be thrilled by all this. I am not interested in corporate intrigue, either, but then again, Monsters, Inc. had the more sympathetic characters and more edges to it and I could really like it. And on top of that, I find the car-worshipping attitude presented rather questionable, to put it mildly. Maybe next time (Ratatouille), there is again more in it for me: Gourmet rats, that’s at least better than cars. The stars will surely be more love-able.

http://movies2.nytimes.com/2006/06/09/movies/09cars.html

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