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Life is a highway (and I’m on my L’s)

Working out what really Maters.

Art by Em Thomas

We all have our niches, things that we love just a little bit too much to be normal and retain far too much knowledge of to be healthy. As a child, I watched many films and TV shows that blew my mind and enraptured my soul; but out of all of them, there is one film in particular that has become an integral part of my personal branding and holds a very special place in my heart. 

That film is the 2006 Disney Pixar sensation Cars.

Now I know what you’re thinking, why Cars of all movies? I’ll admit, there are far better Pixar films out there; but alas, the heart wants what it wants. And when I say that it was my niche, I mean it. If you know me personally, you’ll recognise that my social media handle is a discrete-not-discrete Cars reference and has been for the past 5 years. Furthermore, I chose to put ‘Kachow’ on the back of my year 12 graduation jersey. Do I regret it? Not at all. Why not? Because Cars is — in my most esteemed opinion — one of the most important childrens’ films of our generation.

Now, it’s definitely taken its share of flack over the years. That’s hard to escape when you’re deviating from Pixar’s cinematic formula and existing almost exclusively as a cash grab for a money-hungry corporation looking to bank in on toy sales. But as much as I laugh at the memes online, I will defend this film with my life. 

What makes me say this? Well, where do I start?

The animation is gorgeous of course, Pixar never lets down in that regard. Visually and sonically, Cars is great. But that’s only a small part of the appeal. What I truly love is the story, meaning the characters and themes. Cars has a myriad of life-lessons hidden in its undercarriage and I, in my spare time, have done my fair share of analysis on it. 

Our hero, of course, is Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), a hotshot rookie race-car making his way up the ladder to racing stardom in the Piston Cup tournament. He’s cocky, reckless, and stubborn; the perfect candidate to undergo some good ole’ fashioned character development. The charming residents of small town Radiator Springs; including the loveable-in-small-doses Mater, the earnest Sally, and the velvety-smooth voiced Doc Hudson make for a wonderful extended cast and the perfect catalysts for growth. The writing overall is very well-done and makes for an extremely satisfying character arc and conclusion. 

But taking a step away from the boring English major analysis, let’s look at the emotional aspects of Cars, the stuff that gets me right in the feels. In particular, there’s something really romantic about the setting of Radiator Springs and what it represents within the film. In a world where fame and riches are worshipped as the ultimate goal, Radiator Springs represents the dream of finding a place to belong and a close-knit family of people you can belong with. From the fantastic mentor-mentee relationship we see between Lightning and Doc Hudson, we learn that we don’t always have to go it alone and that it’s okay to admit you need help, no matter how good you think you are. 

In an especially heartstring-pulling scene, we see the history of Radiator Springs, from its hey-day to its eventual fall into obscurity as a mega highway is built and diverts traffic from the humble town. All this happens as James Taylor’s Our Town plays, just to break your heart even more. Amongst other things, Cars also preaches the importance of taking a break from the highlife, living life in the slow-lane, and overall just appreciating the little things that you already have.

Having first watched this film as a child, I couldn’t really understand all the important messages it told. I was simply enthralled by the funny cars and a teeny tiny (read: massive) crush on Lightning McQueen. However, looking back now as an adult, I can see the merits in its morals. Watching it makes me long to get stuck in a small country-town just so I can experience similar epiphanies of self-discovery and belonging. 

At the ripe old age of 20, I’d say that Cars is more important to me now than ever. Just like Lightning, I’m right at that stage where I’m still figuring out who I am and what I want to be. Do I continue my studies and get my degree majoring in English and Film? Do I (and sorry to my Mum and Dad for even suggesting it) drop out and pursue the dramatic arts career of my dreams? The future is scary and I haven’t the faintest idea of what I’m going to do.

As the title says, life is a highway and I’m on my L’s (both figuratively and literally); but hopefully one day I’ll find my own Radiator Springs.

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