Theme: The Treadmill vs. The Track
It is rare for a movie sequel to come close in quality to the original film which generated it. Pixar is one of the few companies that doesn’t milk the proverbial "cash cow" by churning out mediocre sequels.
In Cars 3, the studio returns to the story of race car Lightning McQueen and the loveable characters from Radiator Springs, delighting youngsters and posing profound questions to adults. This is a movie about life, using car racing as a metaphor. It’s a beautiful heart-warming story, making it a worthy legacy to the original Cars and the Pixar name.
The movie opens with Lightning McQueen doing what he loves to do . . . .race. Successful in every way, surrounded by friends and fans, he is at the acme of his career (you have to think life) when the challenge comes. Suddenly out of no where the Next Gen racers show up; they are faster, sleeker, more efficient, and determined to make the "elder statesman" fade away in retirement.
The storm entering Lightning’s life isn’t just another race car driver named Jackson Storm. No, this is the storm which erupts when the world’s system says, "you are old and you must go". Feeling very much alive and determined to compete, McQueen blows his tires and ends the season’s finale in a terrible crash.
Broken and bruised (ego), the famous racer retreats to his mentor Doc Hudson’s garage in Radiator Springs. Looking old in a coat of gray primer, he is parked in front of a screen watching the film of Doc Hudson’s fiery crash. He can hear Doc telling him how he too had more races (life) in him but never got the chance to show them. Doc didn’t go out with dignity; he was humiliated and told to go, leaving him an angry bitter recluse.
Not wanting this to be his fate, McQueen listens to his friends who encourage him to not give up and to try something new. He leaves Radiator Springs with a fresh coat of paint and heads for the new Rust Eze training center, never dreaming how new, new can be.
The Treadmill vs. The track
He arrives at the new, up to date, state of the art, leading edge, ultra-modern, futuristic, training center to discover his old trusted sponsors, Rusty and Dusty, have sold out to a new sponsor named Sterling. A firm believer in the cutting edge technology, Sterling first gives McQueen a new electronic suit, and thenintroduces him to his new trainer, Cruz Ramirez. From now on he will train on a treadmill not a track. McQueen, who is anxious just to race, sees the new-fangled simulator and hops on leading to another embarrassing crash.
Sterling, who made a sizable investment in the brand of Lightening McQueen, doesn’t want to lose the product’s salability; so he tries to convince Lightening that his legacy is all wrapped up in mud flaps. McQueen claims that racing, not cash, is the reward and argues for one last race. He will train the old-fashioned way, getting his tires dirty and if he wins, then he gets to decide when he’s done. Sterling agrees with one provision, he must take Cruz Ramirez with him.
The Hero Journey
The Hero Journey or Monomyth as it is sometimes called, is a story known in all cultures at all times. The hero receives a call to adventure and leaves the ordinary world, crossing a threshold into a special world. He receives a mentor who gives him training for the test which lies ahead. Allies and enemies accompany him as he makes a descent into an ordeal. Having successfully completed the ordeal, he receives a reward, is resurrected and returns to the ordinary world with the elixir of life.
Lightning McQueen sets out on an epic hero journey leaving the ordinary world of high-tech auto racing and entering the special hidden world of old-fashioned car racing. He crosses the threshold, going outside to the beach and exchanging the treadmill for the dirt track. Accompanied by his ally Cruz (no longer a trainer but a trainee), he travels to find and meet his mentor’s mentor Smokey. After tests (ThunderHollow) and trials (lessons from Smokey and other racing legends), he learns the most important truth and one which changes his life.
Up to this point he has believed racing was the best part of Doc Hudson’s life (and his); when racing ended he was never the same. Smokey unveils the secret; racing wasn’t the best part of Hud’s life . . . he McQueen was! Coaching Lightning had brought a joy even greater than racing to the famous Hudson Hornet.
This truth is the weapon Lightning uses in his ordeal in the Florida 500. All along the journey he has been sowing his racing (life) knowledge into another. Cruz Ramirez is a racer, not a trainer, and he makes his last chance her first chance by sharing the race with her. Together, with lessons learned the old-fashioned way handed down by those who have gone before, they defeat the Storm and prove Sterling wrong in every way.
The word legacy has two definitions:
1. A gift by will especially of money or other personal property.
2. Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.1
Cars 3 asks the question, what kind of life leaves a true legacy? The answer it gives is a life which dies to self and pours life into another; this not only brings life to the other but also renews and resurrects the life of the giver.
The movie ends with Lightening McQueen and Cruz Ramirez racing in new bodies, under a new sponsorwith the name, number and color of the Fabulous Hudson Hornet. His life is made manifest in them.
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:38 NIV
"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seed."
John 12:24 NIV
1. Merriam Webster Dictionary