This is a really hard column for me to write. I have gone back and forth with a close friend about this subject, to the point where our friendship has nearly disintegrated. He is so steadfastly stubborn about the fact that the 2006 classic is not a story revolving around an underdog theme, but rather that it’s not possible for it to be an underdog story given the fact that Lightning McQueen, our main protagonist, is a famous race car and is on his way to the championship.
This is where our arguments begin and end. He is so stuck on the fact that an underdog must be a character, preferably the main character. He thinks that since Lightning is a successful race car (driver?), there’s no way this movie can be an underdog story.
My argument is that not only can “underdog” be a theme, but that an underdog can be a place or a group of people. Enter Radiator Springs, the setting for most of the film. Featuring a wide variety of characters selling a wide variety of products, the movie becomes a tale of a place that was once a shining beacon of commerce but has fallen into disrepair by the time Lightning is arrested for a total lack of regard for automobile life. Essentially, Radiator Springs is what Charleston would be if Eastern wasn’t here.
Although his speeding record isn’t without blemishes, Lightning does have a redeeming quality: supporting local businesses. He undergoes a complete makeover while going from shop to shop, visiting Ramone, Guido and Luigi, among others.
It needs to be said that Lightning would not have pushed The King across the finish line (spoilers) without the experiences he had in Radiator Springs. The qualities valued by the town are almost embodied in that action.
If this movie were about Lightning McQueen, it wouldn’t be an underdog story, and it wouldn’t be a very good film, either. Maybe that’s why the sequels flopped. Not that I remember the plots of either one, they could be spectacular works of art, like their predecessor.
The point is, if you view “Cars” with a narrow lens, interpreting Lightning as the main character and the vehicle, so to speak, that delivers the plot, then it’s not an underdog story, because Lightning is a successful car who made it to the championship. I can respect that belief, unguided as it is, but I will not cower in the face of such baseless claims. The movie is about Radiator Springs. It’s called “Cars,” not “Car.”
Ryan Meyer is a senior journalism major. He can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]