Take the road less traveled
Cars 3 is directed by Brian Fee and features the returning voices of Own Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, and Larry the Cable Guy. New voices include Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer, and Kerry Washington.
On one hand, Cars 3 should rightfully upset many Pixar fans of the world, as now Cars, easily Pixar's worst film up to 2006, has now inexplicably joined Toy Story as the only Pixar film thus far to have at least two sequels to its name. On the other hand, Cars 3 might be seen as sort of therapeutic, curing some of the woes that came with the shock and disgust unleashed by Cars 2. The rating scale one would use when assessing their thoughts on Cars 3 is most likely to have, "but it was a lot better than Cars 2" concatenated at the end, regardless if your rating started with, "I liked it" or "Oh man, I did not like that at all." Point being: Cars 3 is a hell of a lot better than Cars 2.
Cars 2 will go down in history for being notorious as the first Pixar film to draw heavy disfavor from both critics and audiences, something that Pixar was seemingly immune to during the late 90's and early 2000's. Pixar kept their winning streak (well, I don't know if you count Cars as a win, but we'll give it a pass) going until 2011, when the legendary John Lasseter decided to piss the directorial bed with Cars 2 and forever tarnish the golden library of Pixar films. And so when Cars 3 started development also in 2011, Pixar would understandably go with the most risk averse methods possible so as to avoid another car crash of a feature film, with the directing duties getting passed on to first timer Brian Fee: a storyboard artist for the first two Cars movies. John Lasseter, who hasn't directing anything noteworthy since 2011, was likely cast off to director jail where he remains stuck to this day.
The goal of Cars 3, aside from being a repeat of Cars 2, is to return to the story of Lightning McQueen and the world of racing. McQueen was essentially relegated to side character in Cars 2, but now the story does almost a complete 180 with McQueen back under the spotlight and Mater being (thankfully) reduced to spectator. In Cars 3, Lightning McQueen is now a long time veteran of Piston Cup racing. McQueen's racing days appear to be numbered, however, as he and the other veterans are quickly being taken over by the new, up and coming rookies that are outfitted with the latest technology. Among these rookies is the arrogant, hotshot racer known as Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). During the last race of the season, McQueen, in a desperate attempt to try and beat Storm, blows out a tire, flips over, and suffers a near-fatal crash. McQueen is left out of commission for four months, and he isolates himself from everyone in Radiator Springs during those four months. McQueen receives a message from his sponsors, Rusty and Dusty, who encourage McQueen to keep racing. McQueen then discovers that Rusty and Dusty have sold McQueen's team to Sterling (Nathan Fillion), a new owner with a state-of-the-art training facility.
McQueen is assigned to train with Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a technician who works for Sterling. After McQueen's training goes awry, Sterling decides that McQueen must retire and be used only for promotional items. McQueen, unwilling to retire so easily, makes a bet with Sterling that if he wins the first race of the season, he gets to determine when he will retire. If McQueen loses, he will retire, no questions asked. Sterling takes the bet, on the condition that McQueen takes Cruz with him. The extra time spent with Cruz does not go well at all, with McQueen eventually berating her for embarrassing him and wasting his time. This is when Cruz reveals to McQueen that she once had big dreams of racing, and that she was heavily inspired by watching McQueen in his prime. McQueen apologizes to Cruz, and the two get back on good terms. But with the race just days away and still needing a spark of inspiration, McQueen decides to travel to Thomasville, where he meets up with Smokey (Chris Cooper), the former mechanic and crew chief for Doc Hudson.
- Right away, you will notice that Cars 3 is another of those stories of a young, hotshot villain versus an aging veteran hero, in the same vein as the likes of The Incredibles and Rocky Balboa. A perfectly fine trope, but where Cars 3 gets some extra mileage out of it is in how the film does a fine job of drawing out the more poignant aspects of its story, particularly in how it presents how McQueen struggles to come to terms with his veteran status and the regret of Cruz for missing out on a foregone opportunity of being a racer. McQueen embodies the headstrong, "let's get to the action" character that he was in the first Cars movie, but the film doesn't try to mask the truth of what McQueen is now: an aging race car who can't keep circling the track forever. Meanwhile, Cruz is a trainer who seems to be upbeat and enjoying life, even though we come to understand that she has deep regrets buried underneath. Where Cars 3 makes its poignant story points appealing is in how it properly addresses there always being a bright side to its character's difficult situations. For McQueen, Cars 3 tells us maybe he can't keep racing forever, but that doesn't mean he can't stop loving racing. And for Cruz, she may have missed out on being a racer in the past, but who said she can't ever try again? This all leads to a not-too-surprising, yet still heartwarming, twist near the end of the film that just might be hinting at the possibility of a Cars 4.
- The animation once again is spectacular. I took special notice to the animation in a scene where McQueen is practicing on a beach with Cruz. The beach shore and the sand that McQueen and Cruz drive on look nothing like you'd see in any standard animated movie. It really looked like McQueen and Cruz got magically transported to a real life beach. Scenes with McQueen driving along a mountain road later on also look incredibly realistic.
- The first two Cars films were never sharp with jokes and overall humor, and the same can be said for Cars 3. At times, I was having difficulty believing if Cars 3 actually had a comedy component to it, largely in part to how emotional that the film wanted to be on many occasions. Lines that I think were supposed to be jokes did not land in any way, and the best I ever did laugh-wise was chuckle a few times. Third time was not the charm, so however many Cars films there are going to be, don't expect them to ever be laugh-out-loud funny.
I'm led to believe that Pixar learned their lesson with Cars 2 and decided that going back to what worked with the first Cars is what needed to happen with Cars 3. In rather surprising fashion, Pixar gives us one of their more plaintive stories in recent memory in Cars 3, which isn't afraid to tell the truth despite also sprinkling on a "stand up to the bullies and use their mean words as motivation" message that is little more than standard kids film boilerplate. The comedy still isn't there, but with its story and dazzling animation holding it up, Cars 3 as a whole is a modest animated film, and that has some merit coming on the heels of Cars 2. Credit Pixar for finding some valuable tread in a trilogy that never seemed super creative or inspiring from the get go.
Recommend? If you liked Cars, I'd check it out.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: