Director: Brian Fee
Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillon, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt
Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world. (Source: IMDb)
My dislike for the Cars franchise is somewhat well known; indeed when I did my ranking of the Pixar films, they took the bottom two spots. They would now be book-ended as The Good Dinosaur slots in the middle of them, but there is no escaping the fact that they are amongst some of the weakest films in what is otherwise a stellar filmography for the animation giants.
Admittedly I am not the demographic for these films, but where the other Pixar films have a mass appeal and can simultaneously please kids and adults alike, the Cars movies only seem to appeal to kids, with the only noticeable effect on the parents being their depleted finances as they fork out for the never-ending merchandise spawned by the film franchise.
At best, I tolerate these films, and despite the trailer promising us “everything will change” (cue the jokes about it being a “gritty” reboot), it is disappointingly more of the same, but not entirely without merit.
We’ll get onto the bad (aka “more of the same”) in the next section, but pleasingly, Cars 3 is an improvement on the utterly dismal Cars 2 but not as good as the original Cars – the term “good” being used very loosely there! Mercifully, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is back to being a side character rather than the main attraction and the story-line is once again focused on racing rather than some kind of strange spy, espionage caper.
The tease of the big crash which means “everything will change” happens relatively early into the film, and from there the plot focuses on a slightly washed up Lightning McQueen as he tries to get back into racing against the new generation of supercars that are leaving him in the proverbial (and literal) dust. He works alongside trainer Cruz (Alonzo) to build up his speed and get him back on the track to success.
Cruz is a welcome addition to the cast, starting off as a somewhat over-zealous cross between a hardened personal trainer and a perpetually cheerful Zumba instructor, her and McQueen share an interesting dynamic. The sub-plot of her possessing the talent for racing is interesting in theory but lacking tact in its execution but we’ll get to that later!
Wilson continues to do great voice-work as the cocky McQueen, and other new additions such as Armie Hammer’s preening Jackson Storm, at least ensure the voice cast continues to be of high calibre.
The animation in Cars 3 is nothing short of stunning, and whilst it does suffer from “The Good Dinosaur syndrome”, where the googly-eyed characters end up looking out of place against the photo-realistic backdrops, it is still a visual treat. The background scenery is really quite spectacular, and Pixar have certainly upped their game when it comes to ensuring every single thing on the screen looks beautiful. The racing scenes are amongst some of the best in the franchise so far, with the roar of the engines being pleasingly loud and resulting in some genuinely thrilling scenes.
Unfortunately where Cars 3 falls apart is the way in which it settles into “more of the same”, with the excellent visuals and fun characters being let down by an incredibly lacklustre plot which really fails to make use of its full potential. Somewhere within this film there is a great story; a washed up racer having to go back to basics and find what it is again that makes him tick is interesting on paper but crushingly dull when realised in this film. There was also a wasted opportunity for a really fun rivalry between Lightning and newcomer Jackson Storm, with the latter being criminally underused and virtually forgotten as the film progressed.
The focus is on Lightning’s retraining but it goes off on unnecessary tangents, trying to do too much and succeeding in very little. Lightning is being trained by Cruz, whilst she is simultaneously discovering her potential for racing, whilst Lightning is also trying to live up to his mentor Doc’s legacy, whilst also somewhat taking on the mentor mantle himself. It is all just a little bit messy and when the focus is away from the track, it really suffers. There was a point in the film where you could audibly hear the kids losing interest (at least in the screening I was in), and sadly the parents and adults would have internally lost interest long before this point.
Whilst Lightning McQueen’s character arc does eventually come full circle by the end, a bold decision is made in the final race which I personally thought was a bit of an insult to the franchise. Lightning McQueen is the star of this show, yet the film makes the decision to change the focus in a confusing and misguided move. Also I get this film is about a world in which there are no humans and cars can talk and think independently, but it takes a big leap in logic and clumsily mumbles its way through a hurried explanation in order to make the way the final race pans out work, and it fails in all aspects. It teaches a nice lesson about sharing and taking part being better than winning, but this is somewhat lost in its haphazard execution.
I saw this movie so you don’t have to…unless you’re 5 years old, in which case go ahead! Cars 3 is an improvement on Cars 2 (which isn’t hard really!) but in an updated ranking of the Pixar movies, it would sit just above The Good Dinosaur and behind the original Cars. Whilst their interest may waver, it should still keep the kids happy – in fact the final race garnered genuine cheers from the ones in my screening – but the more discerning minds might not be so easily thrilled. It isn’t the biggest waste of time and the animation is absolutely gorgeous, but it might be time to put this series out to pasture. Far from a triumphant finish, Cars 3 splutters its way across the finish line and fails to reignite this flailing franchise.