This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

I Can’t Believe What My Kid Is Watching, Part II: Pixar’s “Cars 2”

Part I here.

Who wrote this script — Goebbels?

I must step back here and explain that like most adults, I find the whole premise and ambiance of the Cars franchise vaguely disturbing. There are so, so many questions. Where are all the people in this world, that’s clearly designed for humans? Why do the phones have keypads, even though cars have no fingers?  Why do cars have seats, even though no one in their world is capable of sitting down?  Why does their world have what appears to be large-scale agriculture, even though cars consume primarily fuel made from dead dynosaurs, and their plants are inorganic anyway?  Did self-driving cars rise up against humanity and exterminate it? Where are the animals (that aren’t vehicles)? Did the machines kill every organic life form on the planet? How do they reproduce? What makes a car male or female? How do they fulfill what is obviously sexual attraction?

So it is against this unsettling background that I have to consider the positively Goebbelsian story of Cars 2.

Let’s start with the fact that the evil leader of the shadowy international cabal seeking to corner the market on fuel – that is, to control the world — has a Jewish surname (Axle Rod = Axelrod). The conspiracy itself is needlessly convoluted and nonsensical very much in the vein of classical anti-Semitic canards. But okay, whatever; I’ll grant you that little kids today probably aren’t as responsive to anti-Semitic dog whistles as their great-grandparents would have been.

What I find particularly disturbing about the Cars universe – hinted at in the first film and shown at length in the second – is the treatment of the disabled. Because that’s what “lemons” are, right? Disabled?

Cars 2 is, thankfully, light on exposition, but the small jigsaw pieces provided here and there add up to a grim picture. “Lemons” don’t become such by choice; they are poorly designed, so their lemonness is entirely beyond their control. That’s not just being disadvantaged at birth – the disadvantage that comes with being a “lemon” is actually a system, thoroughly permeating culture and even law. Although this is never made explicit, the movie strongly suggests that while good cars are allowed to replace their damaged parts, “lemons” are not. (There would be no reason for the shady market in Paris to exist otherwise. That nod to the Court of Miracles is the only place where “lemons” can get parts.) Instead, “lemons” are limited to bandaid-type repairs barely enough to keep them alive and resulting in near-constant breakdowns and towings to the shop (financially bleeding them, incidentally, in addition to limiting their movement and causing immesurable suffering). Those who want to be reasonably functional are reduced to buying replacement parts on the black market. In other words, to be a “lemon” is to be a criminal.

There is no explanation for why this is, no rationale offered. Imagine a world in which organ transplants and prosthetic limbs are illegal; or rather, available only to previously healthy people who suffered traumatic injuries. Those who suffer from congenital abnormalities can go pound sand.

Moreover, even “good” “lemons” –like the one that Mater tows in the beginning – the law-abiding ones who meekly submit to these cruel and arbitrary limitations – endure public opprobrium.

“You are the only one who’s nice to ‘lemons’ like me,” says the Good Lemon to Mater, which leads me to believe that ostracism and verbal abuse against “lemons” – if not more – are par for the course in this society. (In the first movie, there is at least one instance in which the word “lemon” is used as a slur.)

Think of what all this means in the context of the Cars universe switching to alternative fuel. Presumably, many cars will need modifications to complete the switch; but remember, “lemons” are not allowed modifications, they can’t get replacement parts. To them, phasing out oil is a death sentence. Can you blame them for rebelling? They aren’t fighting for oil profits; they are fighting for their very survival. This is really obvious, yet the world of good cars refuses to acknowledge this. Even Mater, the supposedly kind and sympathetic Good Car, believes “lemons” are trying to sabotage alternative fuels for mercantile reasons and because their betters keep making fun of them. That “lemons’” very lives are at stake is treated as a non-fact. It is here that the underlying creepiness of the whole Cars universe really bubbles to the surface: by the most charitable interpretation, the movie can’t make up its mind whether its characters are just machines that can be junked if they are defective or when they become obsolete, or sentient beings who feel pain and experience human emotions, such as hope, fear, despair, longing.

Incomprehensibly, being a “lemon” – a condition over which “lemons” have no control (and in fact, are legally prevented from alleviating) – is regarded as a moral flaw. Meanwhile, Mater’s ignorance, provincial buffoonery and lack of decorum are treated as just some adorable redneck hijinks that should be accepted in the name of friendship and tolerance and rainbows and sunshine.

Mindful of Godwin’s Law, I don’t easily accuse a movie of promoting Nazi values. But here, I just can’t escape the impression that this would be a garden-variety children’s movie in an alternative universe where Hitler won and the Nazi ideology became mainstream orthodoxy everywhere, embraced as self-evident without even thinking about it. Here you have a group of cars people who are matter-of-factly ostracized and humiliated for no other reason than being designed “wrong”; while our “heroes” risk their lives to bring about their end.

The non-“lemons” in this movie may be physically sound, but they’ve got rotten souls. And we are supposed to root for them. What the hell??


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7 thoughts on “I Can’t Believe What My Kid Is Watching, Part II: Pixar’s “Cars 2”

  1. Could never get into the ‘Cars’ movies because the characters are…well…cars. You make it sound interesting at least. And kids will pick up on the meta-messages of the entertainment they consume.

  2. this is similar to why “The Incredible’s” always made me a little uncomfortable, even when I watched it the first time as a kid

    particularly the ending., What exactly was the point of allowing Dash to compete in sports? he’s not being open about who he is, he’s not being challenged and its entirely pointless if he can choose if and how he wins….all it seems to do is make him and his family feel better

    its basically a participation trophy…which is ironic given this film seems to follow the “participation trophy’s are worse than Hitler” school of thought

    • Caty Melo on said:

      Hi Amy,
      I believe Dash was allowed to participate because he’s shown proof he can control his powers, after “letting himself go” (you know, during the whole movie? The fights, life-saving, etc.). In the end he’s matured, a little bit, but he has grown up a bit. Violet too. And Jack-Jack… well, he got his superpowers 😉

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