I love Pixar as much as the next person. There are classics in that stable that cannot be matched for heart, humour and polish. But if you had to list Pixar’s movies in order of awesomeness, Cars would be somewhere near the bottom (just above Cars 2, which we should all just pretend never existed, A Bug’s Life and the barely watchable Good Dinosaur). So why are we this week facing the impending arrival of Cars 3? Clearly, it’s about the merchandise.
The original Cars film, staring Owen Wilson as hot shot racer – erm, racing car – Lightning McQueen and Paul Newman as his grumpy mentor Doc Hudson, was first released in 2006. The film had generally positive reviews but wasn’t a major hit for Pixar, yet somehow it’s always been a fan favourite with under-fives. Years after it’s release, it was not uncommon to find Lightning McQueen swimwear, towels, crockery, t-shirts and bedding at basically any department store. By the time the forgettable hillbilly spy-themed sequel Cars 2 was released in 2011, the franchise had already sold $10 billion worth of merchandise. A third instalment was inevitable.
Danyaal’s first glimpse of Cars came after his third birthday when his cousins gave him a World of Cars truck for his birthday. (Of course, they did. His cousin Haytham was still obsessed with Cars at that stage.) After tearing off the gift wrap he asked Sameer “Why this car has a face and a tongue? Cars don’t have faces and tongues.” So Sameer showed him the trailer for Cars, and of course, that was the end of it.
He had only just started watching TV, so he had to watch the movie in 10-minute instalments over several weeks. He was so taken with Doc and “La-McQueen” that we started using matchbox Cars as rewards for all sorts of good behaviour (brushing his teeth, packing away his toys, being quiet on plane trips). Eventually, he had a full collection of the little cars. His favourites were Lightning (he had three different versions) and Doc (he had two – one got lost on holiday), but if he was feeling generous, he’d let Aniya play with Sally. He had all sorts of Lightning McQueen paraphernalia and is in fact currently sleeping in a pair of Lightning McQueen pyjamas. His fifth birthday was McQueen themed. (Baking that cake sucked up a good 12 hours of my life.) This is a franchise that has basically been with us since Danyaal was old enough to watch TV – and it is still with us. (I literally tripped over a Lightning McQueen car on my way out of the kids’ room tonight after putting them to bed.)
And I know it’s not just my son. Why preschoolers gravitate towards the Cars universe (Cars and Planes) is anyone’s guess. My theory is that it’s because when scary things happen to people in movies, it’s hard for children to maintain distance – they think it’s real stuff happening to real people. But when it’s happening to a car or a plane with a face, it’s easier to remember that what you’re watching is fantasy. From age 3 until about 5, Cars and Cars 2, Planes and Planes: Fires & Rescue were the only movies that Danyaal could watch. Everything else was too scary.
Still, even though after two years of everything Cars, we were completely over Lightning and his friends, when we heard that Cars 3 was in the making, we were there for it.
Early reviews for Cars 3 look promising, and the fact that the writers have basically written the latest film as if Cars 2 never happened also bodes well. The premise this time is that Lightning is now an ageing racer who can’t keep up with younger, more agile racers – but he’s still got grit and he’s still determined to leave the world of racing on his own terms.
Although the teaser trailers for Cars 3 looked very good (see below), having watched the full trailer, I’m lowering my expectations. With just those extra 30 seconds of footage, it already starts to feel tedious. Nevertheless, we’re planning to make a full family trip to the theatre over the school holidays to see this film. Danyaal seems to have moved on from Cars to more mature movie franchises but I think he’ll always have a soft spot for Lightning and Doc, and so will we. Maybe afterwards, we’ll finally be able to put this series to rest. Then again, we may just be in for another round of Cars merchandise.