That Clever Miyazaki Riff in Cars


A few posts ago, I briefly mentioned that there was a Miyazaki riff in the new Pixar movie, Cars. Reader Sloindahed asks me just what and where it was, so I figured I should let everyone else know about it. This is a very short riff, one of those blink-and-you'll-miss-it gags, but a very clever visual gag nontheless. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as though anyone else has spotted it.

So here it is: there's a scene where Lightning McQueen, the hotshot hero car, is tethered to a bulbous behemoth machine named "Big Bertha." McQueen is ordered to repave the avenue he recklessly destroyed the night before. You already know the details, because you've already seen Cars more than once.

Anyway, there's a moment when McQueen stops pulling Big Bertha after some distance, and the blacktop machine sputters to a stop; its pipes tilt and slack, one after another in quick fashion. It's a tribute to Howl's Moving Castle. To be specific, remember the scene where Howl's Castle comes to rest at a lake. Its appendages fall down and rest, in pretty much the same manner.

I came away from Cars feeling pretty divided, and the film's barrage of noise in the first act left me cold. But this quick riff made me sit up and take notice. It was smart. It was unexpected. John Lasseter doesn't name-drop Miyazaki's name in his movies, and that's a tribute to his work, because he's gracious enough not to. But he's a great champion of Ghibli, and Pixar worked so hard on the American dub of Howl's Castle, only to have the Disney suits bury the picture.

Of course, if you really want to get down to it, Cars is really about the Pixar studio at the crossroads as their contract with Disney expired. But that's another topic for another time.

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