In a surprising twist, one of the most feminist films of the summer is “Cars 3”
When it comes to Disney and Pixar’s Cars franchise, I am not the target demographic. I am a female, late-20s millennial and while I can correctly identify the characters of Lighting McQueen and Tow Mater, that’s where my Cars knowledge begins and ends. I know I’ve seen the first Cars a few times (because it’s always on Disney Channel) and I have seen Cars 2 once, and no, I cannot recall a single plot detail from it, but Mater was like a spy or something.
I went into Cars 3 thinking it would follow the same formula as the first two – you know, Boy Car questions his ability to do something, Boy Car does it anyway, Boy Car wins the Big Race! While Cars 3 very much has that same plot line — don’t for a second think that McQueen doesn’t win — there’s something new and exciting about Cars 3: The girl car actually wins.
Forgive me for spoiling the entire plot of Cars 3, but in the end, it’s not Lightning McQueen who wins the Big Race. It’s his trainer, Cruz Ramirez. Story goes like this: McQueen is now past his prime, and has to go to racing bootcamp to get his edge back. It’s there that he learns that his high-spirited trainer, Cruz (voiced perfectly by Cristela Alonzo), actually has racing dreams of her own, and she might actually be *better* than him. Twist!!
Or, as Kerry Washington (who voices Cars stats analyst Natalie Certain) put it so perfectly, they’re equals.
"[Cars 3 is not about] the girl beats the boy, but that they win together," Washington explained at a press conference for Cars 3. "That's such an important message that [Cruz] wins, but they win together. When we work together, there's room for everybody at the table...I think it’s fun to see women in this film who are brave and smart and courageous and also teachable."
But wait, there are even more feminist layers to Cars! The story is incredibly important to Alonzo, who couldn’t help but gush about what the story means for her, but for everyone out there — boys and girls. Making the movie even better, Cruz isn’t a bright pink color, like how many “girl” characters are represented. She’s yellow. Nothing about her is “overly feminine.”
“We don’t really reference that she is a girl, we don’t reference that she is a female driver," she told the crowd. "We talk about how good she is and we see it in the story. It’s one of those lessons that I think we tend to forget about. It’s not about a boy or a girl doing something, it’s about the best person doing the best that they can." "I think it’s such a great way to [tell] a story about female empowerment, by reminding everybody that we’re all pretty much alike, and we’re all the same, and that if you work hard and you have the skill, whoever is the best will win...We don’t have enough stories about female characters actually in a world with male characters where they get to succeed in a way that isn’t romantic or anything. It’s just being empowered and succeeding."
And at the end of the movie, it’s Cruz who succeeds. But truly, everyone wins. The old and the new are blended together in a way that shows they’re here to help one another — the gender of the cars is literally never considered a factor. The fact that Cruz wins, and she’s a girl, is never celebrated; rather, everyone is celebrating simply because she wins! She beats racing’s new golden boy, Jackson Storm. She gets a new racing deal! She goes on to become the star!
It’s an incredibly refreshing path for the Cars franchise to travel down. Cars 3 could have easily been another story about a boy winning a race, and yes, McQueen still gets his time in the sun. However in the end, it’s clear that the future of racing belongs to Cruz. Whoever thought that the ladies would inherit the Cars universe? I sure didn’t.