“Penny Hardaway had it all. He had his own doll” – Bill Walton on post knee injury Penny Hardaway
What does that phrase have to do with Lightning McQueen? Not much, I just don’t like passing up a chance to include a Bill Walton quote when the situation doesn’t even really call for it. But that quote is one of the many things I think of when I think of the failure that is Lighting McQueen’s career. The little red race car had it all, he had… his own toy. A toy without any big wins! I mean, he’s Lightning Freakin’ McQueen. Can he win one race?!
If you’ve had a son between the ages of 3-7 at some point during the last 20 years chances are he has been obsessed with Lightning McQueen, and why not? Owen Wilson is great, he’s a cool looking car, he’s got nice friends and a great agent. I have a son that was once between the ages of 3-7 and the boy used to introduce himself as Lightning McQueen for crying out loud and then rebuke his mother and me if we tried to correct him. McQueen’s an icon and what’s more, he’s a movie action figure that actually transfers pretty well into being a toy. You may love Optimus Prime but you’re going to be disappointed if you buy the toy and come home to play with it only to find out that he just doesn’t transform into a Semi Truck as fast when you’re in charge as he does on the big screen. But Lightning McQueen is a race car that you know, races on screen and then can race in the hands of your little 6 year old. A match made in marketing heaven.
But I’m here to call McQueen out and to hopefully word my argument better than that pompous never-was Chick Hicks or that personality deficient completely botched ‘villain’ Jackson Storm.
In a word, McQueen is a loser. I don’t know about you but I like my race car hero to actually win races. And don’t try and tell me that he did in the second movie because if he did (did he?) it’s overshadowed by the espionage story that I swear if I ever watch Cars 2 again and am able to stay awake I’ll be ready to announce it as the superior Cars movie of the failed trilogy. The parts I’ve seen in my half-awake viewing moments don’t seem too bad.
In the first movie, McQueen has the chance to win the Piston Cup and claim himself the fastest car in America but we observe throughout the movie that McQueen has grown a conscience. It’s a good little story about how a brash, young cocky punk car can learn what’s important in life. A good lesson for the movie’s young audience. But why can’t he learn that, finish the race instead of screeching to a halt right before the finish line?! Here’s an idea, finish the race first and then go back and save the Fake Richard Petty. What would’ve changed? If we’re keeping score at home, one movie, zero wins.
Then the second one came. Cars 2 is famous for being the worst Cars movie (though I disagree) when in reality all they did was follow the typical trilogy model – 1st movie is a hit, then the sequel veers from the formula only for the third installment to return to the original formula. I guess McQueen might’ve won a race in that movie but it was hardly the focal point of the plot so I’m not going to give him credit for it. Wins after two movies – McQueen = 0
Then came Cars 3. My son at the time was about 6 years old and could not wait for this movie to come out. And I couldn’t either. This was the one that was going to finally give McQueen that elusive on-screen victory on American soil and it was going to come against the new aged, technologically advanced super racecar with an A+ name, Jackson Storm. The perfect plot was there to be had. It should’ve gone something like this – McQueen is aging but he thinks he’s got one last race in him. But a challenger is looming in the form of straight-out-of-the-lab Jackson Storm. McQueen sees the footage and knows he can’t compete. He needs Doc. He needs to get back to his racing roots and needs his mentor, but his mentor has long been reduced to scrap metal (RIP, Paul Newman). So what’s the little red (and now old) race car to do? Find the guy that trained Doc. And he does. His new trainer gets it into McQueen’s head that he’s not going to beat Storm on speed and moves alone. He’s going to have to do it with racing smarts, grit and with some good old fashion racing charisma that Storm’s robot racing CPU brain won’t be able to compute. At first, McQueen doesn’t take to it, but the new trainer shows him footage of how Doc used to pull off his most savvy maneuvers, McQueen gets motivated, cue the montage and now he’s ready to defeat Storm. Then he races, it’s super dramatic and he wins! My son and I would’ve gone wild.
But that’s not what happened. Not at all. Notice I didn’t mention Cruz Ramirez. A female car introduced in the actual 3rd movie who trains with McQueen and ends up finishing the second part of the race at the end of the movie to help McQueen win. This really happened. McQueen shared a victory with a car we just met. Record after the third and final movie = 0.5 wins.
Seriously, why didn’t Disney just let him win a race? He’s a racecar, let him win a race. Not to sound all Adam Sandler on the Herlihy boy sketch but let the racecar that became a pop culture icon and will live on in infamy in every American-born boy’s toy box for years to come win just one race. In the end, Lightning McQueen was just one big loser. It’s the truth. Now, please don’t ever let my son see this.