Thursday, June 23, 2011

In Which Trish Tries to Reassess "Cars" and Wonders if She Even Wants a Fourth "Jurassic Park"

I have been seeing an unusual sentiment lately that you've probably also already seen around the Internet wherever animation is discussed: "This might be the first year I ever voluntarily skipped a PIXAR film." "I love PIXAR, but I can't see myself paying to watch this." "I'll go, but once the short and the 'Brave' trailer are over, I'm out." "Why the hell are we not getting an 'Incredibles' sequel instead of this?" The film in question, this summer's annual PIXAR entry, is "Cars 2".

Admittedly, "Cars 2" has quite a lot going against it. It's explicitly been made as a moneymaker, even though PIXAR *really* doesn't need one. And also, well, it's a continuation of "Cars".

It's fairly common knowledge among animation fans that "Cars" is widely considered the "least best" PIXAR film. Fans have a hard time finding good things to say about it for a number of reasons I'll get to. It had been a while since I watched it, so I decided to revisit it and try to give it a fair reassessment. Maybe the movie was better than most people thought?

I fell asleep halfway through.

If you've read the Chronological Disney Animated Canon from a few years back, you know that (a) I don't sleep through animated films under normal circumstances and (b) when I do, it generally means that they are pretty bad ("Home on the Range" is a notable example). But being the nice person I am, I watched the rest the next morning.

I still don't like "Cars". But having watched the movie again, I have a better understanding of why I and most other PIXAR fans don't like "Cars":

First off, it's very definitely a film for little kids. PIXAR has made it's name by making movies for everyone. Moms and dads, boys and girls, dogs and cats, adults and children - every other PIXAR film appeals not just to the whole family but to that coveted demographic: everyone. But "Cars" is aimed squarely at the Matchbox/Tonka/Micro Machines set. There were scenes in the film where I couldn't help but think, "This is kind of stupid, but I'm sure a four-year-old would find it funny."

That said, there are also weird little moments that only an adult fully versed in car culture would appreciate. Racing stars have vocal cameos. There's an underlying nostalgia for old-fashioned cross-country road trips. Every vehicle is exhaustively researched to the point where they make the right sounds. For me, whose heart belongs to her fellow organic life forms and who does not get car culture at all, it was like peering into a window on an alternate universe, where I didn't understand the language or anything. (Though it is unspeakably reassuring to know that even when PIXAR swings and misses, they're still going to research their asses off. Therefore, I am foaming at the mouth with anticipation for the Celtic mythology-based "Brave".)

"Cars" was bookended by "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles" on one end and "Ratatouille" and "WALL-E" on the other in the PIXAR chronology. These titles, and the fact that almost everyone has a hard time with the "but 'Cars' was made for children, chill out" argument, shows you what kind of reputation the studio had at the time. And in comparison to these films, "Cars" can't help but feel like an also-ran.

But the one thing that really bugged me during the film is also the one thing that gets brought up again and again as I was reading other people's reviews: The world of "Cars" is not very well constructed. As in, it makes no damn sense, and the more you're forced to think about it, the further you're sucked out of the story.

The characters in "Cars" are talking cars, and as I said, it appears as though most of the research and development for the film went into making them as realistic as possible. It's too bad, then, that almost no thought went into issues like, if they're cars, how -and
why- did they build the houses? No, even better, how did they build the tire lugnut screwdriver thing since nothing in this world appears to have appendages with fine motor control? If everything is a car/plane/whatever, even the insects, why is the Dinoco logo still a tyrannosaur? Why is the Ferrari logo still a horse? Where did the fuel come from anyway? What in the world is even in "organic fuel"? Why are there military vehicles? Was there a car war? If (and granted this is from the "Cars 2" trailers but it's worth mentioning here) the Popemobile is indeed Catholic, what in the world kind of religion do these cars have? What would the Order of Mass in a car church look like? Why are they growing lettuce?

It's not just that this is the only PIXAR film completely lacking in the human element. It's worse because everything seems built by and for humans who are never seen, none of this is ever acknowledged, and the viewer's mind can't help but jump to some weird conclusions (my favorites being that this is a cheery distant sequel to "Maximum Overdrive" or a pro-machine propaganda film from the world of the Matrix). It reminded me more of something out of one of the not-good Dreamworks movies really. In "Shark Tale" (aka, the one where Will Smith is a fish and he quotes other movies and it is allegedly hilarious), the world was populated by fish and yet their city looked exactly like New York and they had a car wash and other human things a fish would have no need for. Say what you will about the movie I reviewed earlier this week, but at least "Legend of the Guardians" put some thought into what kind of castle owls would live in and what their tools and armor would have to look like.

So unless the reviews are spectacular, I doubt I'll be rushing to see "Cars 2". Speaking of sequels, last week, /Film reported that "Jurassic Park 4" just flat out refuses to die. The discussion under this report became quite lively and I had to join in. I apologize, but I'm going to be That Person on the Internet and repost some of my thoughts about the possibility of a fourth "Jurassic Park" movie.

The big one is, "Why?"

Could you even make a "Jurassic Park" movie in the 2010s? We've learned (and here I am going to use a very scientific term) a metric sh_t-ton more about the signature dinosaurs in "JP" since even the third movie, and at this point things like naked coelurosaurs would look stupid. Furthermore, you can't really do anything with the reoccurring human characters, nor can you really introduce new ones, without it feeling really forced. (And anyway, who cares about the humans in a "Jurassic Park" movie? :)

So you would either have to do a massive retcon, or come up with an excuse as to why the velociraptors don't look like velociraptors, or go for broke and do something totally insane like the anthropomorphic dinosaur soldier hero squad idea that was floating around a while back.

Or -and call me crazy- maybe come up with a totally new and different prehistoric animal franchise?

About the only thing that might make sense at this point would be a prequel. In the novels, there's a lot of implied (and not) backstory which could fuel a good "JP" prequel. All from memory, since it's been a while: A better explanation of the lysine contingency. The genetic engineers being asked to make the real live goddamn non-avian dinosaurs look and act more like what people "expect" (in the late 80's remember). Alan Grant being called in the middle of the night with the question "seriously, what would a baby Miasaura eat?" since the Park scientists have no zookeepers among them and have *no* experience with animals. Struggles with adapting the animals to modern diseases and parasites. And of course they could show exactly how the Park scientists learned how unruly the pterosaurs and maniraptors are...

And this was my favorite idea until a poster named Jonas came up with:

"They should set it in a distant future when humanity is extinct and the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park have populated the Earth and evolved to talk and make an amusement park where they can interact with real flesh and blood HUMANS recreated from genetic information preserved in fossilized rolled up gym socks: HOLOCENE PARK!"

Oh sweet Raptor Jesus, I need this movie yesterday (although the title really ought to be "Neogene Park", heh). The whole thing writes itself and I shall repeat my off-the-cuff dialogue for prosperity:

Dinosauroid!Alan Grant - "Well, perhaps humans are more closely related to our modern Rabbucks than to ancient reptiles. Look at the mammary glands, just like a Rabbuck's! Perhaps they even had hair like a Rabbuck!"

Dinosauroid!Annoying Child - "THAT doesn't look very scary! More like a fifteen pygostyle tall PARASHREW!!!"

Dinosauroid!Alan Grant - "A Parashrew. Well, imagine you're in the late Holocene. You see this fifteen pygostyle tall parashrew walking towards you, rather ungainly since it's hind legs are so absurdly long and it's skull is so monstrously large. But suddenly, you are attacked! *WSSHT!!!* By the other six billion humans that you didn't even know were there. And when they kill you, they kill with this: a gun. Point is, you will be stripped bare, have your bones and organs torn out, be cut into little pieces, and set on fire when they start to EAT you. So next time, show a little respect, hm?"

Dinosauroid!Annoying Child - 😨


Dinosauroid!Ellie Satler - "Gosh, Alan, if you wanted to scare the kid you could have just jumped up and screamed while flashing your talons at him."


Sketch of the Day!

6.8.11 Sketchbook Page

Ducks and Chickadees...


Other Person's Art of the Day!

I'm going to link to this piece by concept artist Jake Parker. It's his take on Lightning McQueen and, honestly, it is glorious because it pretty much sums up my thoughts and feelings RE: "Cars".

Inside Lightning McQueen


Ridiculously Important Addendum!

Guess who almost forgot to remind everyone that "Futurama" returns tonight at ten?


Even MORE Ridiculously Important Addendum!

So... this post prompted a rebuttal from Scott at the Coherent Lighthouse. You should read it. (If only because it is so far the very first rebuttal I've prompted from *anything* I've written on this blog. Yeah...)

I feel a little silly that I could potentially get into an argument on the Internet over "Cars" of all things. Also, more importantly, I guarantee my response to Scott's post was exactly what he was probably doing while reading mine: Nodding politely while drumming his nails and thinking, "Yeah, but..." So, I am going to respectfully agree to disagree here.

(Even though I really really REALLY want to re-emphasize that the "it's just a kid's movie, chill out" argument is hard to swallow since I and practically every animation fan in the world expect so much more from PIXAR and... OK, Trish just breathe...)