(First off, how is it that Cars now has a trilogy without having made a sequel to Incredibles???? Oh well, just gotta keep on waiting…)
Pixar has spoiled audiences with great heartwarming and hilarious family adventures. From 2015’s Inside Out to Toy Story 3, we have gotten great films from this division of Disney. In a way we are spoiled by their great movies and always expect every movie they release to be a masterpiece. Maybe this is why Cars 3 does not meet the mark of a great animated adventure. The expectations from Pixar are high but Cars 3 still manages to deliver a decent Disney movie for kids.
The film wisely moves its focus back to Lightning Mcqueen who is now coming to the realization that a new generation is taking over the sport he loves. Fueled by his desire to keep racing and not retire, Mcqueen begins training with Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to go faster and hopefully stand his ground as one of the greatest racers.
Cars 3 essentially picks up sometime after the first movie and does not even acknowledge the events of the disastrous Cars 2. In a way, Cars 3 seems like the proper sequel to the original that should have been made instead of focusing on the annoying character of Mater. Smartly, Mater is not in this movie much and tries to center the narrative around Mcqueen and his struggle to beat out his competition. There are references to Doc Hudson (post mortem Paul Newman) and how his character had a significant impact on Mcqueen and his racing career. That builds upon the relationship established in the first movie and tries to go back to the roots of the franchise.
The marketing of this movie had me really excited. The first teaser trailer essentially showcased our protagonist Lightning Mcqueen (Owen Wilson) severely injured and implied a slightly more mature tone. Given that previous Disney films have now started exploring more developed themes, I was hopeful that Cars 3 would be the film to bring this franchise up to the standard of other Pixar films. The movie does try to explore the theme of legacy, something that both young and older generations can relate to, but it mostly dials down to races, derbies, and noise that younger kids are more likely to enjoy rather than a well rounded family experience.
There are things to like about this movie that ultimately make it the best of the Cars franchise (let’s be honest, that’s not really saying much). Mcqueen training with Cruz is fun to watch and provides for some small humorous moments. The dynamic between these two characters is great with Mcqueen acting as the senior who is experienced and prefers old methods of training, and Cruz as the young aspiring individual adapting to the new form of racing. They are able to showcase both the advantages and disadvantages to each of their training methods that illustrates the gap between the younger and older generations. They are a fun pairing and form a good bond that carries the film.
The theme of legacy is heavy here, and while it is touched upon sparingly in the movie the moments it does happen add some heart to the film. Mcqueen does not want to be forced out by a rookie generation. He looks up to his old mentor Doc Hudson and how he inspired him to push himself to be faster. As a pharmacy major, I am told occasionally that computers could take over my job easily thus no longer requiring my skills. We all have role models that have influenced in some way. In this regard, it can be easy to relate to Mcqueen and how he does not want to quit doing what he loves and what drives him (pun definitely intended) in this journey.
The film’s animation is also impressive when it comes to the racing sequences, almost borderline realistic. Seeing the cars race around the track at high speeds makes you forget that you’re watching a world of sentient cars and brings you into a Nascar esque experience.
Cars 3 has a lot of problems as well, namely its narrative and humor. The narrative of the movie is all over the place. The film feels like part Rocky movie, part action movie, and part kids movie. There is a way to blend this all together well, but Cars 3 does not succeed in this regard. One minute the characters are practicing to get faster and all of a sudden they are now in a demolition derby trying to destroy other cars. The films jumps around and does not provide clear explanations for why the characters are doing what they are doing.
The first half of the movie is also slightly boring as there is no humor or any real fallout of actions for us to care about the characters. The cars mostly just drive around and talk to each other about events and people and then randomly changes to a new set piece realizing there hasn’t been anything exciting in the past 30 minutes. Even the teased crash in the film does not have any long lasting impact on Mcqueen that would have been more entertaining to watch. The second half of the film is considerably better, but by that time you are not too invested in the story.
As I said before, there are almost no jokes in this movie and this is Disney we are talking about. There are attempts at humor but they fall completely flat. I had maybe one or two chuckles throughout the entire film, and even the kids in the theater were not laughing. This is pretty worrisome as the main target audience for this franchise were kids.
The film does pick up in the third act of the film and attempts to payoff all of the moments that came before it. I was surprised as to where they took the ending, but it culminated on a sweet note that payed homage to both Mcqueen and Cruz and what they went through in the film. They seemed to have brought the story to a close and hopefully it stays that way.
Cars 3 is a satisfying conclusion to an otherwise muddled franchise. The film makes great use of its new characters and pairing them Mcqueen. The struggle he faces is real and can be relatable, however, the movie’s plot and humor are all over the place and cannot stay on one course throughout. The movie is more geared towards kids with all the loud set pieces and dry humor and I would not recommend this as a family experience. The film’s ending is sweet and puts the characters in a good place, and hopefully it stays that way. As the film explored legacy, let’s hope Pixar can finally let the legacy of the Cars franchise fade out.