Cars 3 is at times a visually stunning tale which attempts to be empowering but comes off as heartless and extremely predictable.
The third installment of the Cars franchise seeks to get back to its character-driven roots. The film starts off where it all began, on a race track. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is still the king of the racing world. However, Father Time has a funny way of sneaking up on everyone as a new young hotshot racer, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) starts taking the spotlight away from McQueen and turning his wins into humiliating defeats. McQueen quickly realizes that he can’t race forever and begins to think this could be the beginning of the end. His sponsor understands the signs are pointing towards their star racer’s retirement and decides to sell their company to another owner. The new owners bring on a trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) in hopes of holding off Father Time just a little while longer. After the regiment doesn’t seem to be helping him, McQueen is told that he must win the next race or he will be forced to retire and become a pitchman. Will Lightning be able to regain his past form? Will Cruz be able to whip him into shape or will destiny take them in a different direction?
The attention to the animation is crisp and incredibly intricate in any of the racing sequences. A few months ago at a preview for the film, Pixar made the announcement that NASCAR played a key role in helping to develop this movie. This surely was evident as the crashes appear to be bolder, the tires seemed more intricate than in recent films, and even the track debris was mostly dirt and debris from the tires which are often found on any track. Those are just some of the details that stood out to me.
The storyline certainly made way more sense than the spy narrative we endured while watching Cars 2. It made all the sense in the world to focus on the idea that Lightning McQueen isn’t getting any younger. Also, the idea that another unlikely racing superstar could emerge was incredibly neat to watch.
I loved the use of Paul Newman’s voice in flashback sequences. It was a creative use of old vocal recordings, and it created the strongest emotional beats all film.
Loved the animation on the beach when Cruz and Lightning as McQueen try to get his speed back. My favorite shot was they were able to capture the moon reflecting off the water as the two of them go up and down the beach, all the while still seeing little tiny sea creature on the sand.
Loved the Animated Short L.O.U., which tells the story of a bully and how he comes face to face with the “monster” lurking in lost and found. Loved the message of kindness it taught and the creative use of the items in the lost and found to form the beast.
What Didn’t Work
While I certainly feel the narrative in Cars 3 is leaps and bounds better than the one from Cars 2, that doesn’t make the story great by any stretch. It’s merely a generic retelling of the Rocky narrative that achieves a purpose which appears to be selling merchandise.
Cars 3 attempts to tell a story of empowerment centered around the character of Cruz Ramirez. The idea behind her story arc is to show that anyone can achieve the highest of dreams even in male dominated sports like racing. There was nothing organic about her ascent into the racing world; it was all about the male character (Lightning McQueen) finally getting over himself and seeing that she had talent. Once he does, he immediately thrusts her into the spotlight. Is that an empowering storyline or is that demeaning? If they had simply had Lightning retire earlier in the film and have him stumble upon Cruz the way his mentor found him, we might be talking about something unique. In the end what could have been a heartwarming tale of passing the torch with a mixture of empowerment ended up a generic story that we’ve all seen done before.
Cars 3 sets out to achieve individual objectives and does so with great aplomb. It’s certainly better than Cars 2. The narrative is quite vanilla and doesn’t take any risks. While I understand that the core audience for this film is certainly not myself, that doesn’t afford Pixar a free pass to be lazy. Cars was such a special heartfelt treat that it set the bar extremely high for the next two films. No one with a clear conscience can tell you to avoid Cars 3 as there’s nothing wrong with it on the surface. My only advice doesn’t go in expecting to see something reminiscent of the first Cars film.