Law in Contemporary Society

Portrayal of Lawyers in Bee Movie, Cars: Law and Life

-- By JoieLiew - Revised 25 May 2024

PBS Kids, Pixar, Disney, Studio Ghibli, and many more – I could go on listing the numerous media companies that defined the stories in my childhood and continue to influence what I consume now. Ono and Pham observed that, in our “hyper-information society,” media plays a role in educational and social networking spaces in “help[ing] people to make sense of themselves and their relationships with others.” This role of media representations was situated within the context of studying Asian Americans and the media, but I find their theoretical insights to be broadly applicable to the power of media on social processes. For instance, Nielsen, Patel, and Rosner’s Ahead of the Lawmen": Law and Morality in Disney Animated Films 1960-1998 reflects Ono and Pham’s ideas in a context focused on the law where they analyzed the portrayal of law and morality in Disney animated films. Differing from how their article discussed the disconnection of law from morals and even justice in Disney movies, I will be considering the ways in which lawyer characters from films intended for a young audience may connect law with justice.

I chose to focus on the two animated films of Bee Movie and Cars because these characterizations of lawyers are the ones I can most vividly recall and oddly find relatable. Barry B. Benson from Bee Movie and Sally Carrera from Cars were written as practicing attorneys with both movies featuring a court scene. Although these films are products of the entertainment industry, I believe the characters still offer a glimpse into dominant views of lawyers and how others think about the practice of law. The portrayal of lawyers in both Bee Movie and Cars illustrate the ability of lawyers to creatively choose what they can do with the profession while presenting two different conceptions of how one can find fulfillment while pursuing justice.

Bee Movie: Justice Within the Courtroom and Balancing Sense of Self with Practicing Law

Barry, the main character, unsurprisingly is a bee. He is introduced as a recent college graduate who is eager to become a worker collecting pollen, yet simultaneously hesitant to commit for life to that career path. On his first journey outside of the hive, he breaks a bee law and communicates with humans. In experiencing the world for himself and learning to listen to others, Barry finds a new passion: speaking up against the exploitation of bee labor through litigation. This culminates in scenes inside a courtroom where Barry represents the bee population and successfully stops the harvesting of honey.

However, as he was warned by the defense attorney, this upends the “balance of nature” and Barry must utilize his abilities as a bee to undo what he did as an attorney. Luckily for him, the world returns to harmony and the film ends with Barry establishing a law firm (“Insects at Law”) aimed at animal clients who feel similarly exploited by humans. At the same time, he helps his hive to collect pollen but without the constraint of that being his only lifepath.

Barry’s process of self-discovery encompasses one conception of finding fulfillment while pursuing justice, where he found meaning in the law and was able to balance his pursuit of justice with his sense of self as a bee. Ironically, it is only by breaking a bee law that Barry is able to bring himself closer to the human law and discover his love for speaking for those without representation.

Seeking Happiness and Advocating for Others in Cars

Whereas Barry’s appearance in a courtroom was near the middle of the film, the first time Sally Carrera appears is in a courtroom as the main character (Lightning) is being sentenced for destroying the town’s main road. Despite Lightning attempting to provoke her, Sally quickly discerns what is happening and refuses to let him leave without consequences. She gives a heartfelt speech about the history of Radiator Springs (town) and demands that Lightning repaves the road for the townsfolk. As the film progresses, Sally reveals that she left her corporate law job in Los Angeles to become the proud owner of the local Cozy Cone Motel and occasionally the town’s attorney. She explains her reason for leaving was to help revitalize the once-vibrant town out of her love for the kind-hearted people who live there.

Sally may no longer be a “high-powered attorney” but she continues to be intertwined with the law and justice, presenting a second conception of how lawyers may find fulfillment. In contrast to Barry’s solo law practice, Sally is not officially practicing law but chooses to use her profession to be a fervent advocate for the people and town she believes in. Amplified by how the first time we see her in action is in a courtroom, Sally actively pursues her ideals of fairness and justice all centered on who (townsfolk) and what (the preservation of Radiator Springs) she is doing it for.

My Consumption of these Portrayals

Ultimately, both Barry and Sally found fulfillment in integrating their roles as lawyers with other parts of their lives. I acknowledge both these portrayals of lawyers are not human. This might have been a purposeful choice because, after all, human lawyers are never far from evil. Barry and Sally are represented as being firmly aligned with the good, even when they make mistakes, and their non-human forms help establish believable distance for the audience.

In reality, a bee and a car would not be seen as lawyers. Yet, I relate to their stories because I too find it hard sometimes to see myself as a lawyer. Especially in law school, I mostly feel less like the characters in the human, truthful stories we encountered in Lawyerland and more like a bee that cannot quite find their place in the hive. But, interpreting Barry’s and Sally’s stories in the films as them undergoing metamorphosis, I may one day find an unconscious moment where I transform into someone who articulates a theory of social action.


Webs Webs

r4 - 25 May 2024 - 18:09:53 - JoieLiew
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