Meerkats on Alert

This past weekend, we took Ian to a movie theater for the first time.

To be fair, this is not—strictly—true. His first movie-going experience was last winter, when we took him to an IMAX 3-D presentation of a South African safari. This was, in every sense, a complete failure of parenting and common sense. I move that it be stricken from the record.

We went to see Cars at a second-run theater, for $3 each. We had enough cash left for me to spend too much on popcorn and soda, because it was a ‘special occasion’. (Kelly has a theory that men eat so poorly because, to us, everything is a ‘special occasion’.)

It was a rare, stormy day in St. Louis, and many other families had the same idea. The theater was packed with kids. I didn’t mind, because we wouldn’t need to worry about Ian disturbing anyone. He spent most of the movie curled in our laps, quietly watching.

But this is not his story.

I didn’t know this at first, but Cars really is about cars. Everyone, and everything, is a car. The ‘people’, the animals, the insects. All cars. There are no humans, only moto sapiens. This works well, until you start wondering about tools and opposable thumbs.

Cows are tractors, and Mater (a tow-truck) likes to tip them. He demonstrates the technique to his new friend, Lightning (a race car). Mater softly creeps rolls to a stop in front of a cow, and blasts his horn. The cow starts, snorts, and slowly tips backward on its rear wheels. It lands on its back with a thud.

‘Moooooooooooo!’ There’s a ‘pop!’ and a small circle of smoke rises from the cow’s exhaust pipe.

Cars is a funny movie. But, like all Pixar films, a lot of the humor is hidden in the dialogue. Kids aren’t big on dialogue, which is why Wile E. Coyote blows up so often. Until this point in the movie, kids had watched and laughed, but I don’t believe for one second that they understood the genius of including the Tappet Brothers in a movie about cars.

After that cow landed and popped its exhaust, silence also fell. Suddenly a wave of children’s laughter erupted in the theater, every boy and girl giggling and squealing, all at once. Have you ever passed a tree full of peeping and squawking birds? Clap your hands, and the chirping will stop. This was the same, only different.

I forgot about the movie, and quickly turned my head to see dozens of children who were lost in a brilliant example of slapstick. The laughter went on and on, feeding itself, like meerkats on alert. The laughter faded, and kids settled back into their parents’ laps.

Until the next cow fell.

One Response

  1. Jungle Pop
    Jungle Pop at | | Reply

    We’ve watched “Cars” three times at the theater (there is a first-run theater in Dallas that has $2 movies all the time). I love it, and so does my car-crazy boy.

    That’s one movie I’m definitely getting on DVD when it comes out! If we end up watching it at the dollar theater, I’m going to follow your lead and watch the watchers!

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