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Further thoughts on Pixar's 'Cars' franchise

Following on from my previous post regarding the recently launched trailer for Cars 3, I found myself reflecting on Pixar's first two automotive outings.

The Cars franchise is an interesting one. Some people love it, some people I know are pretty "meh" about it, and there are others who are mostly just miffed that there will have been three installments released before we've even had the fortune of seeing just one sequel to The Incredibles. To be fair, I don't blame them - it's a pain we all share.

As for myself, I can be admittedly biased towards Pixar, as I'm a huge fan of everything that they've done so far. I consider the team at Pixar to be amongst some of the best cinematic storytellers in the world, and I have a great respect for everything they create. They're also a studio of pioneers who pretty much invented computer animation, and the software and tools that they have created have been used industry-wide ever since. The story of Pixar is an inspiring one and what they have achieved as a company is mind-boggling.

The first two Cars movies were definitely passion-pieces for Pixar's John Lasseter. This is the guy who made a name for himself bringing inanimate objects to life in animation, such as Luxo Jr, the lamp that has since been used in their production logo for the last 22 years. Lasseter is an avid car collector, which is an interest he's inherited from his late father who was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership. Automobiles have been a part of his life for a long as he can remember, and so it stands to reason that he would want to make a movie about something he loves - and that's something that you can genuinely feel when you watch these films.

[Incidentally - Lasseter also has an impressive indoor train-set throughout his home and keeps a collection of toy trains in what he calls his "train library". His office at Pixar, which has rows and rows and rows of shelves filled with toys from all his previous movies also contains a further collection of trains. So for the last few years I have been wondering if we'll someday see him directing a Pixar movie that revolves around life on the open railroad?]

The first Cars movie is an emotional story, and an intriguing look at what happened to those once-bustling towns and communities that existed alongside Route 66 - and how they struggled to survive following the construction of the interstate highways that completely bypassed them.

The second film was something entirely different, and I absolutely applaud them for that. It is a spy movie first and foremost, taking its cues from the classic James Bond movies of old and setting them up against the backdrop of the World Grand Prix. 

But interestingly, although I regard the first movie to be the better of the two that have been released thus far, it's the sequel that holds a dear place in my heart because of what was going on in the UK at the time. As for why it's important to me, I feel that that might be a story worth sharing...

• • •

For those of you living outside of the UK, you may recall hearing that back in early August of 2011, England was ravaged by riots. It all started after a peaceful protest in Tottenham following the police shooting of Mark Duggan. His friends and relatives had demanded justice from the police who up until that point hadn't announced the findings of their internal investigation.

I recall stepping outside of the tube station on my way home and seeing the building across the street on fire.

Inaccurate reports on Mark Duggan's killing being shared across social media sites and an unconfirmed report circling in the media of a 16 year old girl being injured after attacking police with a bottle then kickstarted tensions that eventually led to rioting.

The rioters fought with police, destroyed four double-decker buses and set fire to several homes and businesses. Scenes of violence started occurring in other boroughs of London and within a couple of days what had started as protests over Mark Duggan's death turned into an excuse for rioters to loot and commit arson as a way of sticking it to the police and the government. Young people from across the city were massing and organizing themselves through BBM (back when that was a thing) and eventually police from across England, Scotland and Wales were all drafted into London to try and help contain the situation.

Being in London during that time was horrible and distressing. I recall stepping outside of the tube station on my way home and seeing the building across the street on fire. There was CCTV footage online of a boy being mugged in broad daylight, and as people came to help the startled teenager, they sickeningly started stealing things out of his backpack. A girl I had been chatting with online was in one of the main areas affected too and she was too terrified to even set foot outside of her home to go to work because of incidents like that.

Some rioters like @itsBARBZbabes had taken to twitter to brag about their involvement in the looting until people called them out on it and started a campaign to publicly name and shame the looters. And of course, with photos of them already being circulated around the internet, the internet did what the internet does best and tumblrs like PhotoshopLooter started to appear. 

Distressingly, scenes like the one in the video below, which was filmed by my friend Mike from Jellyfielder Studios outside his home in Woolwhich, had been happening all over the city.  

The police were completely outnumbered.

In just over a week, more than 3,000 people had been arrested and there were a reported 3,443 crimes across London that were linked to the disorder. An estimated £200 million worth of damage to property was incurred, many family businesses (some of which had been around for over 100 years) were forced to close down, and what was already a struggle for many during the recession led to far worse problems for the economy. When the majority of the country's police force came to London's aid to provide support, would-be rioters in other towns and cities all across England decided that they wanted in on all the "fun" too, and soon the entire country fell victim to copycat violence. Worst of all, several people including a 75 year old woman were seriously injured and five people died as a result of everything that was going on.

I was fed up of how depressing London was feeling. Do you recall the girl I mentioned earlier that I had been chatting to online - the one who ended up being too afraid to leave her home? Just before the riots started she had agreed to meet up with me to go out on a date. And although in the grand scheme of things it's not really a big deal, we never did meet in the end. But some of the things that I was seeing in the news was absolutely disgusting - it was enough to make you feel sick to your stomach that people in a supposedly civilized society could behave the way that they did. 

I had honestly had enough. Obviously there are people who suffered far more than I did; real victims whose lives were directly impacted and turned upside-down by the crimes that were committed, and I absolutely do not consider my experiences to be in any way close to what they had to endure. But everyone I knew was depressed, everyone was upset, everyone was scared and we were all concerned for the safety of those we cared about in addition to the impact this was having upon both our city and the rest of our country.

Two weeks prior to all of this, Cars 2 was released in the UK.

I wanted to experience something good, something fun that would cheer me up. So I sent out an open message to my friends, asking them all "who would like to join me for a showing of Cars 2 at the cinema?". 

Some people responded back in shock that I would even consider venturing into the heart of London, expressing their fear for my safety. 

I was going to be in a cinema, which didn't exactly seem like an interesting target for looters anyway.

But the way I saw it, police officers from across the country were on every street corner of central London, and many of them were armed with machine guns! That's not exactly something that you tend to see much of in England. It stands to reason that London was well prepared for terrorist attacks following the decade prior, so after being contained early on, the centre of London was mostly fine; it was the surrounding boroughs on the outskirts of London that were getting hit the hardest. Leicester Square, which is home to several movie theatres that are frequently used for London's film premieres, logically felt like it was probably the safest part of the city you could be in. Plus I was going to be in a cinema, which didn't exactly seem like an interesting target for looters anyway. I mean c'mon, what were they going to steal? A movie?

Out of everyone I knew, only one person decided to join me that day. The two of us sat in an almost-empty cinema and enjoyed the best therapy session anyone could ever ask for.

I have no idea what your opinions are of Cars 2, but for me at that moment in time, it was absolutely sidesplittingly hilarious, and heart-warming, and everything you could ever want from a movie and so much more. Feelings of woe quickly slipped away and were replaced with joy and immeasurable laughter. And when I finally emerged from the cinema that evening and stepped back into the cold night's air of Leicester Square, I felt like a different person. I was refreshed. For one night, all of the worries, all of the stress and all of the depression that I had been experiencing throughout that whole ordeal was gone.

The riots were still far from over at that point, but I will never forget the day that I went to see Cars 2, and had one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. And I will always be indebted to Pixar for their ability to make me laugh, even in times of despair.

Making the Switch

Cars 3 trailer released