A Cars 3 Review

For those of you eagerly asking yourselves if you should see Cars 3 let me tell you it’s not worth it. Somehow this movie failed to be everything it was trying to be and I’ll tell you why. We start with good old Lightning McQueen in his prime, winning race after race, and having friendly rivalries with his racing buds. When suddenly a millennial- I mean Jackson Storm shows up with his high tech training methods and leaves the older cars in the dust. Soon Lightning McQueen and his peers are being replaced by more of these rookies until Lightning McQueen is the last of the oldies. During one race McQueen loses his focus and has a terrible crash. Then we time jump four months and he’s hiding out in Radiator Springs completely devoid of his will to fight. However all of his friends convince him to get back out there and his old managers tell him they have a new state of the art training facility to get him into racing shape. At the facility he meets his trainer, Cruz Ramirez, another young car whose training methods he thinks are a waste of time. Eager to prove that he is good enough to race with the likes of Storm, McQueen gets on the training simulator and breaks it making his investor decide that it would be best if McQueen retired before he damages his reputation. However McQueen strikes a deal that if he wins the next race then he is able to choose when he retires. Thus begins the journey of Cruz and McQueen and they try to make him a faster than Jackson Storm. Together they leave the facility because McQueen insists that he  needs to train the old fashioned way, and head for an old racing track that McQueen’s mentor, Doc, used to race on. Oh and I forgot to mention but apparently Doc passed away before the first and second movie. Instead of a race track the two find themselves apart of a demolition derby, shenanigans ensue, and Cruz ends up winning it. After the derby McQueen and Cruz get into a fight where Cruz says that she always wanted to be a racer but she wasn’t (her model) a racing car and when she got her chance she didn’t take it because she didn’t think she could do it. Next the two travel to Doc’s home town where they meet a bunch of older racing cars and even Doc’s old mentor. Doc’s mentor begins training McQueen by racing him against Cruz, but he is never able to beat her so off they go the main race we’ve been building up too. At the race McQueen isn’t doing so so well when he finally realizes that Cruz is the answer to beating Storm. So, halfway through the race McQueen goes to the pit stop and tells the others to paint his number on Cruz and they send her out to finish the race with McQueen taking on the role of her coach. She wins the race using a trick she learned while on the road with McQueen and the win is counted as win for both of them meaning McQueen won the deal he made. Now at the end McQueen is Cruz’s coach and they do a big reveal where McQueen appears sporting Doc’s old colors.

Okay now time to get to the meat of things. I feel like this movie was trying to be touching and make it feel as if McQueen had come full circle in the series from rookie to coach. However it ran into issues because the relationship between Doc and McQueen wasn’t even mentioned in the second movie. I swear Doc’s death wasn’t even mentioned in Cars 2 or if it was it carried no emotional weight at the time. This made McQueen’s sudden reverence of Doc come as a complete surprise and it felt forced. They also paired any mention of Doc with flashbacks from the first movie as it to say “hey, remember Doc and how much McQueen cared about him”? They don’t even tell you how he died which makes you wonder, how can cars die? My other issue is that although this movie was likely targeted at children the main character is an aging car afraid of becoming irrelevant in the new and shifting world he inhabits. A lot of the humor panders to the idea that the old ways are somehow better, like comics that make jokes about kids these days not knowing what books are. Even the young car, Cruz, that the younger audiences are supposed to relate to doesn’t know much out of her generation and continually refers to McQueen as old (not in a joking playful manner either) even though he can’t be more than ten or fifteen years older. She often comes across as annoying and I found her somewhat dislikeable as a character. Maybe I would have enjoyed this movie more if I was also someone afraid of being replaced by the youth.

Another issue I had was the pure fact that problems in our world don’t translate into the world of cars. For example Cruz is stated to be a “Hispanic female” (whatever race means in the world of Cars) and her story is meant to reflect how some people are born into privilege and others are not. Essentially McQueen being a racecar is a white male and Cruz who isn’t a race car is a female poc. However, Cruz would wake up early to train so that she could become a racecar, even though her model wasn’t what people generally thought of for the job. This is an important topic and Disney’s Zootopia did an excellent job of dealing with issues of race, bias, class, and privilege. The world of Cars, however, isn’t really built for this kind of thing. There is a bit in the second movie about old cars being cast aside but other than that no real class system exists. Do cars have a form of currency? There is talk of wealth and selling things, but I’ve never heard of cars spending money or being poor.  Another issue they bring up is sexism in the racing world. From the previous Cars movies it can be observed that lady cars don’t race since all the other racers are coded as male and voiced by male actors. In Cars 3 though we meet and old female car who used to race in Doc’s day. She mentions that when she started racing that everyone said the track was no place for a woman. I get what Pixar is trying to do they are trying to address the lack of women in male dominated fields and I guess this movie is supposed to encourage little girls that they can do whatever boys can. However, in the world of Cars it just raises questions. Is Cars a sexist society? What are the differences between male and female cars? Are gender roles and a thing and what are they? My last issue is with the ending where Lightning McQueen and Cruz switch mid race. How is this a legal thing in the world of professional racing? The only rule that they needed to abide by was Cruz needed to wear McQueen’s number. This raises more questions about the Cars universe, like why don’t all the teams adopt this method and instead of working hard to change tires really fast in the pit switch out between two cars. It seems like you could save time that way and save your racers from mental exhaustion. The fact that this is legal also makes it canon that the cars do not feel exhaustion, which is weird since they’ve definitely been out of breath before.

If you made it this long through my Cars review you’re amazing. As a movie it lacked presence and the pacing was poor. The resolution was disappointing and also confusing. All in all this movie is fine if you’re five or don’t care if the world makes sense. Otherwise I would suggest you watch something else and just forget about the world of Cars completely. Why we even needed a third Cars movie is beyond me, but if you ever want to talk to me about the world of Cars feel free because I still have many questions.

Should we be Proud of The Proud Family?

Growing up, The Proud Family was one of my favorite shows. I am sure that my affection for the show had much to do with my own identification with its attention to black characters and stories. However, years later, looking back, I am unsettled by the show’s implicit colorism issues that snuck by me as a child. The issues are interwoven into much of the show but a prime example that I will analyze here can be seen in the episode, Pulp Boot Camp.

Before jumping into the episode, let us first look at the characters whose opposition propagates the color divide in the black community reflected in the show:

Penny Proud, a light skinned black girl, is the protagonist of the series. While she can be bratty at times, she is usually painted as a “good girl” and, next to Zoe, her white friend in the crew, she is arguably the best behaved teen in the gang.

 

In opposition to her are the Gross Sisters, three dark skinned black girls. These girls are from a Jamaican immigrant family and are depicted as so dark that they are blue. In another episode in which the students trade families to learn about the different cultures around them, it is revealed that the sisters are so mean and thieving because they have to work on the weekends to make ends meet for their family. While I commend this episode for digging a bit deeper into their characters and hinting at the lack of privilege that causes the sisters to act out, this is the only time that this is done. Most of the time, they are reduced to nothing more than convenient antagonists.

The real problem with the depiction of Penny and the Gross Sisters is that their color is portrayed as having a direct correlation with their morality. In the episode, “Pulp Boot Camp”, Penny is determined to be sent to detention so that she can write an article about “being bad” for her journalism class. In this quest, she gets in good with the Gross Sisters and begins to help them rob others. Her conversion to “the dark side” culminates when we see that she has turned blue. Her normally curly hair (which is another “privilege” saved for her as a light skinned trope) is also braided into cornrows. The rest of the episode follows her at boot camp where she is transformed back into her light skinned self.

It can be argued that the show did not mean any of this and that I am looking too much into a minor detail. While it is true that black audiences may often feel the need to be on the defense, it is important to note the climate that causes them to do so. When the representation of black people in art is so few and far in between, more pressure falls on the artists to create art that is cognitive of its role in the creation of a Black aesthetic that can be enjoyed and identified with by a Black audience as well as mold the impression that outsiders have of the race as a whole.

As creators, black artists need to note and evaluate the dual consciousness within themselves in order to create art that avoids the pitfalls of stereotypes and oppression that have been systematically embedded in their own self image. Writing to these tropes in order to shed light on problems within the community and country as a whole is one thing but submitting to them because they are well established and easy to write to is another all together. The latter misses the goal of creating an aesthetic that reflects the diversity and depth of the Black audience that Black artists strive to make art for in the first place.

 

“It Could Be Better”: A Critique on PoC Representation in Cartoons

The other day, I was watching cartoons with my little cousin. We were flipping through a few of her favorite shows, and out of that impressive list (and it is impressively long considering she’s two) I only saw three shows with characters of color as the lead, and only two of those characters were black. It really drove home a point that I had been thinking about for years. Diversity in television, especially in the cartoon industry, is notoriously hard to come by.

Pick any cartoon show made in the last 20 years, and I guarantee you will find that most of the main characters are Caucasian boys.  Not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with that, but when it is literally the only thing being projected into children’s eyes for generations, it’s a bit overwhelming. Black characters, if there are any in the show, are relegated to side-kicks, comic relief, over compensated supporting cast, or a combination of the three. Just look at the ever popular shows Danny Phantom, and Fairlyodd Parents. The side character in those shows (Tucker and AJ, respectively) received no character recognition outside of their intellect and, in AJ’s case, money status. Wade from the short-lived Disney show Kim Possible, was essentially a tech genius who was able to navigate Kim out of most situations. And yet, he remained firmly planted behind the scenes. Nearly every black character I can recall from my childhood underwent the same treatment. As a kid, I either thought it was cool, or didn’t care much. Now, as an adult with full intention of crashing through the animation industry, I look upon it as a roadblock.

The fact is, audiences aren’t used to seeing black characters in the forefront of cartoons, at least not as much as white characters. Due to this, producers and critics alike claim that such shows wouldn’t market well. My response to that: Of course they wouldn’t! Not if you don’t market them the same way you market each and every one of the dime-a-dozen “White boy protagonist” cartoons that have been airing for years! Even cartoons with Latin American, or Asian protagonists do better on the charts. Furthermore, if there is a show with a black protagonist, they don’t stay on the air as long as the other shows. Typically, they get cancelled (The Proud Family), crash and burn due to poorly written characters (The Cleveland Show) or aren’t aired at a time that would garner as much attention as other shows (Class of 3000). This has been the norm and frankly, as a black creator, I am dissatisfied with that. Granted, there are a few gems, namely kids shows such as Doc. McStuffins, and the up-and-coming Nella the Princess Knight. There are also some Netflix originals (Home, The Deep) , but that’s about where it ends.

It’s disheartening to think that my cousins and siblings don’t have a lot of characters that they can relate to on a physical level. The boys especially! This trend needs to change, and thankfully I can already see the signs of that happening. It already started with what I like to call “Spotlight Equality” cartoons, where no one character was in the lead or running the group. Shows like the Total Drama saga, 6Teen, Stoked, and the newest hit Voltron fall under this category. They are all great shows that are successful do their extremely diverse cast, and the individual attention they pay to each person’s character development. Not to mention, the wide array of ethnicities and social backgrounds allow for more audiences to relate to the characters on a deeper level. That being said, we can take it further. We should take it further. Black creators cannot sit back and let our only solid claims to cartoon fame be Fat Albert and The Boondocks. Now is our time to flip the literal scripts, and usher in some more diversity in mainstream media.

-Brittanie Lewis

A Review of “The Guardian Brothers”

 

A little over a week ago, The Weinstein Company released the Chinese animated feature film, Little Door Gods, onto Netflix under the anglicized title, The Guardian Brothers. With its introduction decidedly lacking in fanfare and any form of a marketing campaign nonexistent, the dub’s addition to the platform skirted under the radar of most and surprised others. And while the prospect of viewing an unexpected new film might seem appealing surprise at first, this one, unfortunately, yielded nothing but disappointment.

The Weinstein Company has become somewhat infamous for its subpar dubs of foreign animated movies, as evidenced by the fact that its most recent theatrical release, Leap! scored a dismal 35% on RottenTomatoes, while an alternate english adaptation, Ballerina, received the relatively positive score of 73%. In its efforts to make the features appeal to American audiences, they often cut large amounts of footage and insert crude or pop-culture based humor. And while this cut-and-dry, “kidyfying” approach may be marketable, it certainly isn’t doing anything for their victims’ level of artistry. Despite all this, however, I’d like to argue that regardless of the unnecessary revisions The Weinstein Company implemented, The Guardian Brothers, or rather, Little Door Gods, was not a salvageable film in the first place.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. There is rampant potty humor, most forced and likely inserted where it was never intended to be included. There is an obnoxiously high density of cliché American hits that the Weinstein Company used as background music. Off the top of my head, I cam recall 3 separate instances in which Celebration’s now mind-numbing lyrics filled my ears, and a scene in which characters are throwing firecrackers at a fog monster is confusingly heralded by “Everybody was kung-fu fighting!” To use either of these musical tropes in a soundtrack is something that, in my opinion, must be clearly justified (as in, using Kung-Fu Fighting in Kung-Fu Panda, which actually, you know, makes sense), but to use both in multiple instances is something so painfully unintelligent, it’s clear someone only made the choice to excite 5 year olds. Beyond that, there’s the relatively common dubbing issue of adding extra lines of dialogue to make perceivably unclear situations clearer to western audiences– a choice that again strikes me as odd, considering the company had already made the decision to cut between 15 and 20 minutes of the film, depending on the source you consult. So yes, The Weinstein Company did its fair share to ruin The Guardian Brothers.

All this said, I by no means believe this to be a perfect movie, unjustly soiled by the greedy hands of some corporate distributor. While parts of that statement are certainly true, the fact of the matter is Little Door Gods/ The Guardian Brothers suffered from a number of fatal story flaws to begin with. Now, I’d like to preface by stating that I have not seen the uncut, subtitled version of the film, but even without this knowledge, there were a number of problems that clearly spanned both iterations. (SPOILERS FOLLOW)

The first issue is that of the grandmother. Introduced a few minutes into the movie, this character serves no purpose whatsoever other than a plot device. Rain and her mother walk into the old woman’s noodle shop, and within mere minutes of her introduction, she dies. This– GASP– forces Rain and her mother to take over the noodle shop, but carries exactly zero emotional weight, as the grandmother had about a minute-and-a-half of screen time before being killed off. Despite this, the filmmakers still try to milk her death as tragic and heart-wrenching, treating the viewers to an weepy scene in which the characters mourn her loss with lanterns and tears. Now, mind you, I’m not saying that sadness at a loved one death isn’t justified, or that the lantern ceremony wasn’t beautiful– I’m just saying that this character was so fleeting, so useless, so unimportant, there was no reason she should have existed in the first place, and further, no reason she should have bogged down the film for five minutes with phony heartstring pulling. The filmmakers still somehow attempt to make her this ideal that characters look to throughout the film, similar to how Carl looks to Ellie in times of struggle during UP, but this is completely impossible to connect to for the obvious reason that we never even had the chance to get to know the grandmother, so why should we and how can we be expected, as the audience, to see her as an ideal? I think it’s telling that Ellie and the grandmother in this film have about the same amount of living screentime, but while Ellie had most of the audience reduced to tears at her funeral, the grandmother’s death elicits nothing more than a, “What? Did she really just die?”

Secondly comes an over saturation of antagonists. Counting all minor antagonists and henchmen, this film has at least 9 villains. Even without those qualifications, it has 4. One is a hyperactive assistant to the Spirit mayor who repeatedly checks up on the titular guardian brothers to make sure they aren’t breaking the law, though with brothers having no previous infractions, it’s very unclear why he’s so fixated on them. He also carts around with him an irritating group of assistants called the “Heavenly Babies,” cherub-like creatures with voices reminiscent of the minions and who instigate a large amount of the film’s unnecessary potty humor. This villain and his cronies only seem to serve as a “slow down the plot” device, with their personalities so unimposing and their threats so meaningless they add virtually nothing to the plot. Then there’s the mayor of the spirit world, who, given the way which other characters speak about him and his King Candy-like design and mannerims, seems to be set up to act as the main villain of the film. But nope! He only appears in one 5 minute segment of the film, in which he forces his constituents to dance for a while and insults their bad form. Why does he even exist? Why not make his assistant the mayor and cut out the middle man? He also employs a couple of the spirits we meet in the cringeworthy dancing scene to guard some key places in the plot, but neither of these spirits is anything more than a passing caricature. Beyond that, there’s a sleazy restaurant owner trying to force the human characters’ noodle shop to close down, who’s perhaps the most tired and rehashed evil businessman representation to ever walk the earth, and whose plots are so obvious you’ll be left pulling your hair out at how stupid the other characters must be not to suspect him. Tacked onto him are two gangster lackeys and an odd health inspector, none of whom are any more complex or assuming. But wait, there’s still more! Overarching all of this is the Nyan, a mystical beast that is supposedly the embodiment of evil and whose release serves as the goal of one character’s quest. The Nyan has a human servant who has no apparent motivation for serving the Nyan other than walking around creepily in a shadowy room of statues. So you thought Spiderman 3 had too many villains? Try making sense of all this.

Additionally, this film has, at its best, 2 separate sets of characters and timelines it follows, and at its worst, 4. While other films have proven this can be done well, in The Guardian Brothers it leaves characters undeveloped and gives the viewer a sense that there wasn’t enough idea in one plotline for a movie, so they had to pad it out with unnecessary tangents. Overall, the pacing and storytelling is a mess, and though I’m aware a good 15 minutes were cut, I fail to see how that addition could untie this already ridiculous knot. And still, the film somehow simultaneously manages to feel cliché, sticking to tired and predictable story beats and never striving for any meaning or impact deeper than, “Sometimes stuff has to change, guys.” Okay, great. Thank you for your astounding revelation about the nature of the universe, film.

It’s also odd that for a film about gods and spirits, the character and environment design of the spirt world feels so astoundingly bland and unmagical. It’s literally just a bunch of humans who live in the clouds. There’s nothing breathtaking or awe-inspiring about it.

I’m going to stop myself now, because if I don’t, I’ll keep writing all night. Of course, I realize I sound very negative as I write this, but to be perfectly honest, I found the film just okay. There was nothing particularly offensive about it, but it certainly was no masterpiece. Even without the problems The Weinstein Company inflicted on it, it seems to me that at best, it could only be classified as mediocre. And please keep in mind that while my opinion is very pointed and strongly worded, it’s just that– an opinion. If you enjoy the film, I by no means want to make you feel bad about that, but these were the issues I had with the film. And who knows? Perhaps someday I’ll see the original version and my whole review will be turned on its head. But until then, I’m just going to have to leave Little Door Gods/ The Guardian Brothers with a halfhearted shrug.

~Rachel Napierkowski