Pixar’s Cars analysis

What can I say? I’m a Disneyphile and, in particular, a Pixarphile, and I have a 3 yr old who watched Cars about five hundred times last year. Since it’s come up in Jim’s recent article and got me thinking about it again, I decided to work through the storyform on here. Feel free to join in.

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Lightning McQueen is clearly the MC. Not a hundred percent on the IC. I want to say it’s the residents of Radiator Springs with emphasis on Sally, Mater, and Doc Hudson.

Resolve: Changed
In the beginning LM is all about speed, always on the go. By the end, he learns to think about his friends back at Radiator Springs and slow down…or at least calm down.

Growth: I’m going to guess that he needs to Stop being obsessed with speed, to Stop trying to be the fastest and first all the time.

Approach: Do-er, but not always a good one.
He wants Mac to drive through the night so he can reach Dinoco first, but falls asleep. He rushes through the road paving to get done, but messes it up. He doesn’t know how to drive in dirt so he goes out and practices. When it comes time to Be the Rust-eze sponsor after the first race, he has to do that, but he doesn’t like it because that’s not who he wants to be.

PS Style: Linear
(Paraphrasing here)”he wants me to turn left to go right. Well, guess what! I turned left and a funny thing happened. I WENT LEFT!”

Driver: D…decision?
Is it the decision not to change his tires that forces his flat tires which then leads to a tie? And that in turn leads to a new race in order to Decide who the champion is? And there’s the decision LM makes at the end to stop right before crossing the finish line and go back to help the Dinoco car.

Storylimit: Spacelock
It was already mentioned in Jim’s recent article, but I’m going to elaborate. It starts as kind of a journey movie as LM is trying to cross the country—that’s space. Then there’s the final race, another journey. This time it’s to the space of the finish line. First one to occupy that space wins. …Or, I should say, once that space is occupied, the story comes to a climax.

Outcome: undecided
I’m waiting until I get to the story Goal for this one. LM loses the race, but does that equal failure? I don’t know.

Judgment: Good
Jerk face Chick Hicks is happy about winning, even though everyone hates him. Dinoco is happy with LM, LM is happy that he was able to help the legend across the finish line. The residents of Radiator Springs were happy to help and to be getting business. And there’s that really upbeat song at the end.


OS: Physics
There’s racing, driving cross country, paving roads, driving on dirt roads, driving through the night,

MC: Universe
LM is held prisoner in a quiet town in the middle of nowhere and no one knows where he is. This is preventing him from reaching Dinoco.

IC: Mind
The residents of Radiator Springs have been forgotten, or ignored, since the creation of the bypass. This has led to their own bustling small town to become a dead town that no one stops in anymore.

RS: Psychology
LM starts out as a prisoner with the citizens of Radiator Springs acting as his jailor. They begin to grow together as friends as the story progresses. Not sure how to Gist-ify it, but I think it’s somewhere in there.

When my kids were young I probably saw this a hundred times. So far it looks great—and thanks for doing this!

Isn’t Doc the IC? With maybe a hand-off to the girl car?

And isn’t the relationship about driving into the turn as an analogy for doing the opposite or unthinkable?

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That sure would make a lot of sense, wouldn’t it? Yeah, I’ll go with that.
Regarding the relationship, learning to drift is probably the biggest part of it. I was thinking something about how they are trying to turn LM into a real racer? Seems like that’s mentioned a couples of times.

I’m trying to do this without rewatching it again, which isn’t as easy as I thought it might be. Based on your description of the RS, I’m wondering if that puts it in Conceiving. I’ve already been torn between lower right and lower left, and I think I can make a decent case for about 3/4 of either. Heck,I guess I’m going to have to watch it one more time after all if no one else jumps in.
If it swings lower left, I’m thinking MC and OS problem of Pursuit. If lower right, Proaction. Everything in me is telling me Pursuit, but that’s usually a sign to go the other way!

So I think the Goal is to win the Piston Cup and get the Dinoco sponsorship. LM loses the race, so I’m calling the Outcome a Failure. I think that losing the race is where he makes a switch to have a holistic moment. Everything LM has done in the movie has been to get to CA, win the Piston Cup, and get the Dinoco sponsorship. All he has to do is cross the line, and he gets everything he wanted. But he stops just before the finish line. Because it’s not right for the Dinoco car to go out like that on his last race, to not finish it. To win that way wouldn’t be balanced. So he goes back and helps the Dinoco car cross the line.

From there I think the OS thematic conflict is Self Interest vs Morality. LM puts himself first, makes it out to be a one man show instead of giving credit to his crew who leaves him. Sally is more interested in helping the town get fixed up.

Problem is pursuit. Pursuing the cup leads to crashes and not having friends and getting lost and stuck in Radiator Springs and sliding into the cactuses on the dirt road. (May not all be in the same throughline)

That’s what I’m going with, though I have a hard time committing 100% to it.

May I join in? (I’m hoping people might correct my thinking if I’m wrong anywhere.)

So, I agree with the Domains, even if we take Doc alone as the impact character. (Though, I suspect Jim is right, and Sally has an influence in parts of the movie.)

At first, I had a little trouble agreeing with IC Domain of Mind, but that fits the kind of influence Doc has on Lightning so well. And, I agree that Lightning is in Universe, but mostly because I’m fairly certain this a Stop story, too. (Lightning definitely seems to have a chip on his shoulder.)

But, I’m not sure whether I agree with the goal of “Winning the Piston Cup”, though as I think about it, the Concerns that would entail seem to work.

Objective Story

So, the racers conflict because of their vying for sponserships and victories. The townies are dealing with conflict because they’re looking for a way to bring business/customers back, but their newest “recruit” refuses to work with them.

Main Character

Lightning’s internal drive is his desire to win the Piston Cup, but it runs deeper than that. The question of course, is how does this cause conflict or how is it personal baggage. Well, it really doesn’t, nor is it. His personal baggage really comes from his place as an outsider, both in the racing scene, and at the town. Throughout the movie, it really seems like he’s claiming “I have to prove myself before I’ll ever be accepted.” (Clearly, I’m not thinking of Dramatica terminology in this quote. Just the generic English.)

Influence Character

I’m fairly certain this is Doc Hudson (a.k.a. the Hudson Hornet). It is the Hudson Hornet that inspired Lightning to race in the first place, and it is Doc Hudson who has the most impact in changing Lightning’s view at the end, with Sally’s as additional influence. So, if we consider Doc and Sally, their influence is mostly comes in the form of their laid back attitudes toward driving/life all together, and claiming they know what life is really about.

Relationship Story

This is always been the tricky one for me. The best classification I can come up relationship moniker I can come up with for Doc and Lightning: old-timer/new-comer. How does this grow throughout the movie? Well… The two start out as adversaries, really, then develop into this mentor/mentee relationship, eventually. The relationship is growing into something positive.

So, after all of that, I think I agree with the Concerns, too:

  • OS: Obtaining (getting customers to the town, vying for positions/sponsorships)
  • MC: The Future (setting up your future)
  • IC: The Subconscious (having a full life)
  • RS: Becoming (becoming friends)

That said, I still don’t think I agree with a Story Goal of “Winning the Piston Cup”. It seems way too specific to Lightning and Chick Hicks (that obnoxious green car). Then again, I’ve also had trouble understanding the Eight Static Story Points.

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Hi Hunter. Super glad you joined in!

Like i said, I’m not 100% committed to what I put. But anything else I looked at worked less. And it really felt like a pursuit/avoid problem to me. If I had gone into it while writing the first couple posts I think I could have explained it better.

I’m definitely agreeing that the IC is Doc and maybe a handoff to Sally. There’s a few scenes that I’m thinking of that left me open to including Radiator Springs itself, but it’s better to just look mostly at Doc.

Where else might you have placed Doc? I can see some Mind Issues that LM has, but they seemed less like they were creating personal problems for him and more like they played into the Self-Interest aspect of the OS theme. Doc has a past. He used to be a racer and went out with a crash. It’s sort of Situationy, but I’m not sure how or if that influences LM. I’d say the way he influences others is through various forms of respect. Isn’t he the judge or something when LM gets sentenced? All the Rad Springs citizens seem to respect him. But with LM, it’s more than just respect. LM idolizes Doc because of how great of a racer he was. So that fits in mind.

I’m not sure what other Goal there might be than winning the cup, but I’m open. What else do you think it might be? I tried a few other things, but I couldn’t pull anything explicitly from the story and get anything else to work. I can have trouble with the Goal though because it’s hard to find something that fits everyone. The Radiator Springs folks, for instance, aren’t trying to get the cup. Like you said, they’re trying to get customers. But it seems like they are, at least at some points, trying to help or are rooting for LM to win.

This sums up exactly what I had been thinking, and why I made the choice I did.

But, yeah, I’m definitely having trouble with the goal. I’m just not sure it’s actually a Failure story. Though, it’s been awhile sense I’ve seen it, I don’t remember Cars having the same bittersweet feel as How to Train Your Dragon, or the novel I’m writing (Failure/Good). I also can’t reconcile a Story Consequence of Becoming.

I could be very wrong, of course.

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Not gonna lie. Having trouble with that myself. Closest I get is failing to win the cup means not becoming a part of the Dinoco team, but that doesn’t feel quite right. Feels more Being/Playing a Role.

Can one, in Dramatica terms, Become the champion?

I have no idea.

The good news is, it turns out that the software has forced me to agree with you on Lightning’s Problem.

I have already entered:

  • Change: Lightning is solely focused on winning for himself at the beginning of the movie, but by the end, he thinks of himself a bit less, allowing him to focus more attention toward others.
  • Linear: @Gregolas, you said it: “I turn left. Guess what happened. I went left!” as well as many other instances, such as “The faster I pave the road, the faster I can leave.” Etc.
  • Spacelock: (Read Jim’s article.)
  • Good: Lightning is clearly happy in the end, and the better for it, even though he didn’t win the cup.

After entering those, then examining the quads for possible problems, the set of elements, I came up with this. Lightning clearly believes the lack of Support from the town is causing him all his grief, and thus he absolutely turns to oppose them. He balks at everything they say or do. So, I enter Support as Focus, and the result:

Main Character

  • Problem: Pursuit (his full-fledged attacks on, well, anything, to get what he wants)
  • Solution: Avoidance (???)
  • Focus: Support (the townies don’t cheer me even though I’m famous)
  • Direction: Oppose (Lightning balks at everything the townies say or do)
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He’a About to cross the finish line, then stops. He turns away from the finish line to help the Dinoco car. Even if Chick Hicks hadn’t sailed through already, LM, by pushing someone else across the line first, is actively avoiding the win.

I think that’s a good way of interpreting it. I was hoping to find something a bit shorter and more gist-like, though. (I have the Windows version, so I keep a list of gists for myself.)

Interesting, entering the the information that I’ve agreed with gets us down to four Storyforms. The remaining choices are the Story Driver, and the Story Outcome.

I think you mentioned that you thought it was Decision, which is interesting because I would have said Action. But, this is another area of Dramatica that I am weak on. Of course, as I’m trying to type out even an initial action for the story, the only thing I can think of is that decision of Lightnings to ask Mac to drive through the night. So, what would be the Dramatica Act turns that occur because of Decisions?

When trying to decide if and how it might be a Success or Failure, I looked at the Sign Post order for each the outline. Couldn’t say what every sign post is, but there were a few that felt really right to me in certain spots. Every last one of them forced the storyform into Failure.

We are in the same Situation.

  1. All gas n go’s
  2. ?
  3. ?
  4. ?
  5. The decision to push Dinoco across the line.
    I’ll have to ponder the rest for a bit.

I’m not saying it doesn’t work, and actually I just found this on the Narrative First App:

Becoming: Being Changed by a Particular Group.

Doesn’t that just take the cake? Lightning, and the rest of the racers, plus the town, were Changed by a Particular Group. More specifically, Lightning was changed by the town, and that disseminated through into the racers. Moreover, the townies were changed by the racing world.

With that in mind, and if Lightning is the Protagonist, too, then I actually now like these:

  • Story Goal: Winning the Piston Cup
  • Story Consequence: Being Changed by Those Around You

Though, I’m still a little iffy on “Winning the Piston Cup”…

I’m definitely seeing Lightning as the Protagonist.

And I’m thinking of the scene where the tourists drive through. The townies try so hard to obtain them as customers that they scare the couple off. Although that feels a bit like reaching because I don’t think not trying to obtain them as customers would have guaranteed a sale.

I liked Support as Focus, but had a hard time putting it in words. I really like how you’ve put it.

Now that I’m thinking about it some more, I’m wondering if the goal might not be something along the lines of “Claim a Spot”.

  • The town wants to have their spot back on the map.
  • The racers are trying to claim their spots (either in place or with a sponsorship).

This goal wouldn’t actually have been reached within the movie, because nobody quite got what they wanted, but everyone came exceedingly close. Thus, a feeling of Success without actually being a Success?

I can work with that. And it would match your storyform up to mine?

Keep in mind, I have been making the case for the way I see the form, but am still not 100% sure of it (have to leave it a little open for when @jhull comes back and tells me I was way off, then I can be like “that was my second guess!”:joy:)