Sometime last week, someone in one of my classes brought in Cars, the newish Pixar movie. So I put it on, for us to look at while they worked and while I went around to help people out. My students seemed to generally think it was cute, but my constant complaints of 'What the crap was that?!' and 'Are we supposed to think this is funny?' and 'Who came up with this premise, a four-year-old?' and 'What makes the tractors non-sentient?' eventually started to crack their complacent exteriors.
'Maybe,' one of them posited, in an effort to resolve the lack of coherent worldbuilding, 'all humans were transformed into cars. They just turned into whatever car they were most like.' I agreed that this was possible, but then what about the inanimate cars that already existed? No one was willing to go any further with it. I sort of didn't blame them, since it was making me unreasonably angry, but I let it go.
So yesterday, I forced this movie on chmmr and unpleasant and 343. The time had come for Deep Hurting.
We all agreed that it was appallingly bad. I think the best thing about it was the great-looking environments, in which I see Steve Purcell's hand pretty strongly. Nice lighting, nice production design, nice-looking dust and FX.
Everything else worked much less well. The characters were amazingly flat (to the point of some scary stereotypes: the one (stereotyped) black character was married to the one (stereotyped, voiced by Cheech Marin) hispanic character. What is this, Plato's Stepchildren
?), and too numerous. There was some love interest no one could possibly care about, and some older mentor figure who never actually did much, and a bunch of other tertiary characters that sat around being 'colorful' (alarmingly stereotypical). Oh, and The Hick. Sigh.
The protagonist's character arc proceeded from Unmotivatedly Jerkfaced Arrogant Car to Car who has LEARNED THE MEANING OF FRIENDSHIP. He seemed to make this change for no real reason; he just sort of eventually developed Stockholm Syndrome or something (originally he was being held forcibly in a run-down town because he did some damage to it). One moment he's being rude to all the cardboard cutouts of townspeople-characters, and the next he's all, heyy, Love Interest
! Lemme just flip my switch from 'asshole' to 'awkward!' And you're my friend now, Hick! Even though I never really seem to actually warm up to you, and in fact seem uncomfortable around you most of the time! Aww, it's a treat for all ages.
Really though, the thing that just made me quiver with rage is the universe-building. Okay, we've got a human-free universe, populated instead by cars. The very first thing I wonder about, when hearing such a thing, is okay, how did this come about? [answer: No idea.] How do the cars, not exactly known for their dexterity, manipulate the objects around them? [answer: they don't, unless specially equipped. Once I saw a car use its antenna, which is a pretty serious hack.] What are cars doing with human accoutrements like desks, flowerpots, and flagpoles? Did they build them? How? [answer: uhh...] Why are there farms? Who or what is food being grown for? The cow-painted tractors, which are supposed to be essentially animals (but whose faces are not significantly different from the sentient cars), who owns them? Why is farm machinery less 'human' than road vehicles? [answer: AAGH] I think that there is still something about ever-racheting-up fidelity that demands more thought than the alternative. If there'd been vagueness in the realisation visually, maybe I would have been more forgiving. But I don't think you can have perfectly rendered dust and grime and just expect people to not to have their expectations raised for a cohesive world. I mean, maybe I'm the only one who looked at the car-shaped land formations and said, 'what the heck? Were those created? Is this just some sort of unsettling coincidence?' and I'm reasonably sure I'm in a small group with people who asked 'was this planet seeded with/by car-shaped aliens, eradicating all human life in the process?'
Sincerely, it's like a four-year-old's version of a fairy tale. Once upon a time, there was a place where there weren't any people, just cars. And the cars drove around a lot, and they drank gas, and when they broke they would repair one another. Okay, I'm bored, let's go play with legos.
In the supplemental material on the DVD, Lasseter said that he made this movie for his young children, whom he'd neglected while working on the Toy Stories. They liked cars, he liked cars, and he totally wanted to do this for them. And he did, and somehow he got everyone to go along with this.