Is Cars 3 a stealth feminist smash hit? Mum of three Angela Cuming gives her verdict on a franchise that has never been very good in the past.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Pixar films. As in I’ve hated how much people have loved them because to me they’ve always been a testimony to the lazy sexism that sadly still exists in kids movies.
But hallelujah and praise the Pixar gods because Cars 3 is your new feminist fave.
In what will no doubt be welcome news to parents tired of movie after movie filled with princesses and women characters that oddly all have the same face (it really is true) we now have a proper feminist film to take our kids to see.
Cars 3 has been lauded as ”Wonder Woman for toddlers”. That is a big call considering the first two films in the Cars franchise were basically about an arrogant dude car (Lightning McQueen) who drives really fast, wins big races, get a girlfriend, and has lots of bro friends who also like to race fast and do other car stuff.
But Cars 3 really does deliver the feminist goods and it’s all down to the introduction of a new lead character, Cruz Ramirez, a badass “girl” race car voiced by Cristela Alonzo.
In the film, Cruz enters Lightning McQueen’s life as a seemingly confident motivational trainer. We later learn she gave up her dream of becoming a race car because she was told it would never happen — that she couldn’t compete with the big boys.
“All the other racers were bigger than me and it made me feel like it was a world in which I didn’t belong,” Cruz tells McQueen in one poignant scene.
“I had one shot (to be a racer) and I didn’t take it.”
When she asks McQueen if he ever felt like he wasn’t going to be a champion race his answer is simple. “I just never thought I couldn’t,” he says, neatly summing up the differences in challenges faced by boys and girls and men and women the world over.
It’s telling that Cruz was originally conceived by the film’s creators as a male character. It was the film’s new director, Brian Fee, father to daughters Lucia, 11, and Eleanor, 8, who inspired them to rewrite Cruz as a woman (errr car).
“A lot of them is in Cruz,” Fee told the Washington Post.
“Now that I have two daughters, I see the world through their eyes,” the director says. “I see how little they have [culturally], and I see what they’re up against. I see how they hold themselves back.
“I have empathy for my daughters,” says Fee, noting that he recently suggested to them that they might take up an instrument. The reply: “Daddy, guitars are for boys.” One daughter, he says, “had already drawn that conclusion and line for herself — that this was no longer an option. … That breaks my heart.”
There are many things to love about Cruz. For a start she’s yellow and not bloody pink like so many other, often token, girl characters in children’s entertainment (Skye from Paw Patrol springs to mind).
She’s also young and Hispanic, particularly poignant in a time of Trump and his awful threats of wall-building and deportations.
But what I especially love about Cruz is there is absolutely zero romantic chemistry (and yes it does feel weird talking about cars in that way) between her and McQueen. Nothing, zip. There’s no crush or awkward moments or assumptions they will end up driving off into the sunset together. Cruz and McQueen have genuine, funny banter going on. They trade jokes and one-liners and develop a deep and mutual respect for each other and form a fulfilling, and more importantly platonic, relationship – and that’s so crucial for children to see.
When I watched Cars 3 I was sitting in the same row as a dad with his two daughters who looked about four and seven. For the first 20 minutes or so when it was all McQueen and Car Bloke World the girls were fidgety and happiest lying on the floor, driving their poor dad crazy.
But when Cruz zoomed onto the screen in all her yellow sassy glory, they both sat bolt upright in their seats, glued to her every word.
They giggled when Cruz got stuck in the sand while training McQueen on a beach, gasped when she was almost crushed by a giant school bus (she escaped!) and cheered when she beat McQueen in a race.
When the lights went up the girls happily skipped out and turned to their dad and said in unison: “Daddy when we grow up we are going to be race car drivers and win – just like Cruz!”.
Gracias, Cruz, and thank you Cars 3.
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