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« on: June 18, 2006, 04:52:56 PM »

Life Gets A 'Tune Up' in Pixar's Cars

by Dr. Marc T. Newman
June 16, 2006

(AgapePress) - - Rival animation studios have got to be asking themselves if Pixar will ever make a flop. So ascendant is Pixar's computer animation house that the only way Disney Studios could continue its reign as the king of animation was to purchase the upstart company for $7 billion. But the key to Pixar's "incredible" success has less to do with the quality of its animation - which is uniformly outstanding - and more to do with its commitment to telling a great story. While many animated films seem content to throw out one sight gag after another to keep the kiddies entertained for 90 minutes, Pixar films combine great humor with storyline depth. It is a combination that draws in customers far beyond the last afternoon matinee.

Other studios are catching on, to various degrees. Shining through the slapstick in Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox's Robots (2005) were messages about the sanctity of life and the determination to serve others. Their latest effort, Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), touched on apocalyptic themes, with even a glimpse of heaven for the acorn-obsessed Skrat. More recently, Dreamworks' Over the Hedge (2006) tackled consumerism, greed, and the blessing of family. But no animation house has the track record of Pixar for top-notch stories - and their latest entry, Cars, is no exception.

Lightning McQueen is the new kid on the Piston Cup Tour, and is threatening to win it all. Lightning is so concerned with finishing first that he ignores his pit crew's advice to change tires before going into the last laps of a race. The results are disastrous, forcing Lightning into a "race-off" a week later in California. As happens in any "road trip" movie, Lightning has some problems along the way and winds up in Radiator Springs. That is where the film begins to work its more subtle magic. Cars challenges its viewers to slow down, to see value in old things, and to reconsider what it means to be a winner. What comes across isn't a series of New Age platitudes; instead each idea is illustrated fully and represents a number of biblical perspectives on life.

Speed Kills
Americans live in the fastest-paced culture the world has ever known. I remember back when I had a daisy-wheel printer and sat amazed as it spit out text at 25 characters per second (much faster than I could type). Now, many years later, I get anxious when my laser printer takes more than 5 seconds to deliver my first sheet. Delays are now measured in nanoseconds. This is why the world of Cars is such a great metaphor for American life: it's all about speed.

Lightning is "faster than fast" but his mouth is often speedier than his brain. He alienates his entire crew by touting himself as a "one-man show." You can see it coming. If Lightning is going to grow up, something will have to happen to apply the brakes. That "something" is an unscheduled detour into Radiator Springs, a town so unfamiliar to Lightning that it may as well be The Twilight Zone. There he learns to appreciate natural beauty, cultivate friendships, and do a good deed or two -- all of which take time, meaning Lightning has to slow down.

The Psalmist tells us that the heavens declare God's glory -- of course you have to stop and look in order to see it. The Apostle Paul explained to the Romans that God's eternal attributes are revealed in nature -- but that assumes we look at nature. Try this exercise. Think for a minute about all of the things with which you have come in contact in the last week and ask yourself if any of them were natural -- meaning not manufactured. Many of us get up in the morning, walk across acrylic carpet or ceramic tile, get into a car to ride on rubber tires across concrete and asphalt roads, park in a garage, and then head to an office, store, or school. Not once have we touched anything natural.

Cars vividly demonstrates that you cannot appreciate the scenery if you are speeding along. Lightning is so busy that he has no friends. He learns that relationships take an investment of time. It is also time-consuming to do a job well and be of service to others. What begins for Lightning as a frustrating, irritating detour away from the object of his pulse-quickening desire, turns into calm, measured appreciation and a realignment of priorities -- particularly away from trophies and toward people.

Old Junkers or Classics?
My grandparents taught me songs like "Ain't She Sweet" and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" I have an old photo of one of my grandmothers in a flapper outfit -- yes, they were once young, too. They told me stories about The Great Depression. I would have been impoverished not to have known them. But currently in America the trend is to segregate our aged populations in mobile home parks, retirement communities "for active seniors," and nursing homes. As a result, the young have limited contact with the elderly, and subsequently both miss out on a lot.

Cars reasserts the value of the elderly. They don't throw the idea out as sentimental pap, but as a real challenge. The judge, Doc Hudson, lives incognito in Radiator Springs. At one time a championship race car, Doc turned his back on the sport when it turned its back on him. But Doc still has a thing or two to teach about life, both on and off the track. One would be tempted to say that the film establishes the proverb that "old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill," but that's just the attention-getter. Cars takes seriously the need for intergenerational relationships, challenging us to implement the Scriptures that command us to respect our elders.

What Does It Mean to Be a Winner?
But Cars saves the best lesson for last. Drawing on America's addiction to competition, Cars is determined to realign our perspective. While the final race-off is to determine the Piston Cup Champion, it also illustrates the power of sport to reveal character. It would be unfair to give any of it away, but anyone with eyes to see will find a number of biblical ideas in evidence concerning sacrifice and what it takes to be a real winner. Cars can serve as a great opportunity to discuss these very ideas with your kids, or, likely as not, the NASCAR fans among your friends and relatives.

C.S. Lewis argued that the only stories worth reading to children are those which also engage adults. The same can be said for animated films, long held to be a genre designed for children. Memorable characters, top-notch voice talent, and great animation can make a good movie. Stories that speak to the human condition, opening it up and creating options that allow for positive changes, turn good movies into great films. It is encouraging to see more animated films, like Cars, heading down that road.

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