Even before “Wonder Woman” opened at the top of the box office on June 1 with more than $38 million in ticket sales, the superhero flick’s female-empowerment theme garnered the attention of both Left and Right. But two weeks later, when “Cars 3” raced to first, there was little mention of the girl power theme showcased in the third installment of Disney’s Pixar franchise. And those few who did note the plotline got it all wrong.
Here’s what one reviewer wrote about “Cars 3”: “It’s even kinda woke, if you can believe that. Old timey cars talk about racial prejudice and sexism in a particularly weird sequence at a crucial point in the film. McQueen’s character arc is paralleled by that of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) a racing trainer who has secretly longed to get onto the track herself, but never felt she belonged. The film never quite pinpoints why she feels so marginalized, but if one wants to extrapolate on the evidence supplied, one could assume a variety of things — that she’s a female, that she’s Latina, that she’s lower class.”
HuffPo similarly fawned: “The big female empowerment story of the summer may be ‘Wonder Woman,’ but judging by the way parents and fans are reacting on social media, the latest entry in Pixar’s ‘Cars’ series is delivering its own feminist message.”
This Is Not a Social Justice Film
What message did HuffPo’s Emily McCombs hear? Well, after quoting the film’s director, who says he “sees how [his two daughters] hold themselves back,” McCombs intoned: “While one might wish that it didn’t require personal experience with gender discrimination for men to want to take action against it, viewers seem to be responding to the results.”
No. No. No. There was no sex discrimination in “Cars 3.” And “Cars 3” wasn’t woke. It was conservative. Admittedly, I’m a little late to the starting line (groan) with this review, but our family’s tradition entails seeing summer blockbusters in more solitary confines a few weeks into the film’s run. So last weekend, we headed back to the local drive-in to see “Cars 3.”
After the previous week’s “Despicable Me 3” bomb, I feared a similar fate. But we thoroughly enjoyed this sequel. While not in the league of “Cars”—especially the score, which proved no match for Sheryl Crow’s “Real Gone” and Rascal Flatts’ “Life is a Highway”—the Rocky theme in “Cars 3” was an improvement over the first sequel’s copycat of the James Bond franchise.
I most enjoyed that Hollywood’s nod to girl power in “Cars 3” represented reality and not Lightning McQueen being woke. Well, as much as anthropomorphic cars live in reality.
Now for the backdrop—and spoilers.
A Has-Been and Would-Be Team Up
“Cars 3” began quietly enough, with Lightning McQueen mentally preparing for a race with his “I Am Speed” mantra. But soon the audience learns that there’s a new rookie in town and McQueen just can’t compete. The newcomer, Jackson Storm, is equipped with the latest technology and soon wins every race of the season, including the final match-up in which McQueen suffers a potentially career-ending crash.
Back in Radiator Springs, McQueen must decide whether it’s time to turn in his racing tires. After some hilarious prompting from Sally, McQueen decides to fight his way back. He turns to his long-time sponsors for help and learns that Rusty and Dusty have opened a state-of-the-art training facility, funded by selling Rust-Eze to Sterling, McQueen’s new sponsor. There McQueen meets Cruz Ramirez, a strong, confident, and upbeat trainer—who also happens to be female.
Not happy with the slow pace of the training, McQueen breaks free on the race track simulator and, unable to handle the speed, crashes. Sterling wants to force McQueen into retirement, but the racer convinces his new sponsor to give him one last shot at victory—the Piston Cup in Florida. McQueen then leaves to train old-school with Cruz in tow. Cruz, however, lacks the street smarts to keep up with McQueen outside the training center. After wasting several days of training—including one demolition derby scene which screamed for some extra editing—McQueen tells Cruz she isn’t any help because she’s not a racer: She’s just a trainer.
With that, Cruz’s confident façade fades. I’m not a racer, she admits, but that was her dream: to be just like Lightning McQueen. But her family told her to “dream small.” Even then she pushed herself and finally got a chance to race. But when Cruz showed up at her first race, she felt out of place because she didn’t look or sound like the other racers. So she quit.
Of Course It Doesn’t End There
After baring her soul, Cruz flees but later returns to help McQueen locate one of Doc Hudson’s mentors for advice. The search leads the duo to Doc’s rookie stomping grounds of Thomasville, where they spend the evening chatting with the old-timers. In reminiscing about their glory days, River Scott and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash discuss breaking the rules just to race—just as the real-life NASCAR legends who inspired the characters did. As ESPN explained, Nash was the car version of Louise Smith, the “First Lady of Racing,” who competed in NASCAR from 1945 to 1956. River Scott stood in for Wendell Scott, a racer from the 1960s and the only African-American to win a Cup Series race.
McQueen again trains with Cruz, learning some tricks along the way. Then, with time for only one more race, Cruz speeds past McQueen in the final training lap. In that moment the audience knew how the movie would play out, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable ending. Cruz stood up to Sterling, who had ordered her home, McQueen substituted Cruz in during a final pit-stop, and Cruz executed one of Doc’s race-saving moves to defeat Jackson Storm and take the Piston Cup. McQueen and Cruz then join Team Dinoco, Cruz refusing to race for the man (Sterling) who had typecast her as “just a trainer.”
From hood ornament to taillight, “Cars 3” was conservative! No politics of grievance. No poor victim Cruz held back by a glass ceiling erected by men. Cruz didn’t fail because she was female or because she looked different. She didn’t fail because of discrimination. She failed because she didn’t try—unlike her predecessors, Barnstormer Nash and River Scott, who had real grievances and had to break down color and gender barriers just to race.
Cruz also didn’t try because her family weighed her down with the heavy burden of low expectations. Cruz also didn’t need some woman to lean in to help her succeed. Having a male mentor proved completely kosher. And Cruz won because, male or female, she was the best racer.
Now, this is a “feminist” theme I can get behind! But it isn’t the “smash the patriarchy” kind sold by the Left. Rather, Disney’s Pixar took a traditional approach to feminism, presenting Cruz as a product of her choices, not a victim of her circumstances. So if you’re looking for an enjoyable family flick with a solid message, check out “Cars 3” before it heads over to the second-run theater—where you’ll likely find “Despicable Me 3” in no time.