I don’t know why I watch Top Gear, but I do. Despite its terrible format, which consists of three blokes taking turns at telling rubbish jokes about how incompetent the other ones are at parallel parking, interspersed with packages in which they do things like testing whether a monster truck can drive through a housing estate faster than a horse drawn carriage driven by someone from Holby City, I still find myself tuning in from time to time. I seem to have a natural immunity.
The most notable thing about Top Gear is that it is the show that made Jeremy Clarkson famous. It’s a big leap from presenting a British TV show to starring in a Hollywood film, but Clarkson, following trailblazers like Kate Thornton in Shrek 2, has done it. He appears, or at least his voice does, in Cars as Harv, the agent of Lightning MacQueen, the rookie racing sensation. Quite what the people at Pixar thought when Clarkson’s name was suggested for the part I don’t know. I certainly can’t imagine he won them over with his charm – he’s a well known detractor of all things American.
In fact, it is a bit of mystery as to why he wanted to become involved with this project at all as the film is essentially a celebration of all things American. Lightning MacQueen, a talking motor vehicle like all the other characters in the film, is travelling to California to try to win the Piston Cup. By mistake, he ends up coming off the interstate and finds himself travelling along the deserted Route 66. He goes through a small town called Radiator Springs, accidentally wrecking the road, and is then ordered to stay in town until he’s fixed it. At first he finds the eccentric inhabitants of the town annoying, and he’s itching to get out of town to win the Piston Cup, which will bring him great fame and wealth.
Lightning is gradually won over by their backwater ways, falls in love with a cute little Porsche, and picks up a trick or two about racing from an old car, Doc Hudson, who just happens to have been a three time Piston Cup champion back in the 1950’s. He does leave and go to California to compete in the final race of the season, though during the race all he can think about is the place and cars he has left behind. He’s spurred on to success when his friends arrive to act as his pit team and comes back to a winning position, but stops short of the finish line to help an another car cross the finish line.
Nevertheless, Lightning is still offered a sponsorship deal with a big oil company which will turn him into a rich celebrity car. The old Lightning would have accepted in a flash; the new Lightning opts to stick with the folk whose product buffs the bumpers of rusty old trucks.
The moral of the tale is that people are in such a rush to get to their destination that they often miss out on many of the simpler pleasures life has to offer. For instance, Radiator Springs was once a bustling place on that most symbolic of highways, Route 66. Once the interstate, which offered a quicker but less attractive journey by bypassing the town and the surrounding mountains, was built cars stopped visiting the town because they just didn’t know it was there. The film suggests that every once in a while we should pull over and take stock of the landscape upon which we are travelling, rather than simply viewing it as an obstacle to overcome. Perhaps someone should remind Jeremy Clarkson of this next time he’s ranting about how he hates getting stuck behind caravans.
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