Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
I think I said this in my review round-up for this film but I’ll say it again. Welcome to the sequel no one asked for, but we got anyway. I still, to this day, find it baffling that Cars was turned into a franchise before The Incredibles but I guess toys are more important than anything else. Regardless, Cars 3 is the latest entry into Pixar’s middling franchise. The first film was enjoyable, the second was a dumpster fire. Now we have the third film and Lightning McQueen is back to the races. Despite the Cars franchise being sort of an outlier for Pixar, the third film attempts to reclaim the success of the previous movies and while Cars 3 is a humongous improvement over Cars 2, it still doesn’t rank in the higher tier of Pixar films.
Cars 3 takes place sometime after Cars 2. Lightning McQueen is on top of the racing industry. Going from underdog to the best racer in the world, Lightning has achieved the fame and success he sought to have since the first Cars film. But, times change, and a new generation of racers have entered the game. With a a new breed of high tech racers on the rise, led by the young Jackson Storm, Lightning loses his thunder and is faced with the possibility of early retirement. Refusing to give up racing, McQueen signs with a savvy new sponsor Sterling and a lively new trainer, Cruz Ramirez in an attempt to take back his racing title from the younger generation.
The biggest fault that Cars 3 suffers from is an incredibly disjointed story. While it shares many of the same story points with the original Cars, as there are quite a few great moments in the film, the story jumps around from one thing to the next, trying to pack in as much plot as possible in a considerably short time (the film is only 109 minutes). Not only is it about the pressures older athletes feel when they reach a age, it tries to build up Armie Hammer’s Jackson Storm as a real threat to Lightning McQueen, then jumps to Cristela Alonzo’s Cruz Ramirez and her road to the track all while Lightning is fighting his way back onto the racing grounds. Cars 3 may be entertaining, but the film is too disjointed to ever feel invested in a particular story.
Does this take away from the fun of Cars 3? For the most part, not really. Cruz Ramirez in particular stole the show as this is very much her film as it is Lightning McQueen’s. Ramirez is a trainer with a dream and a drive (ha) to get on the track and become a racer herself. Cristela Alonzo absolutely kills it in the role as she brings so much joy and emotion to the kind-spirited trainer. The character quite possibly has the best arc in the entire film as she works towards realizing her full potential. Owen Wilson once again churns out a solid performance as Lightning McQueen. He is significantly better in this film than in Cars 2, as the aging aspect of Lightning is an interesting plot point. Wilson does a great job at selling the possibility of never being able to do what you love anymore. The one negative I have for the character doesn’t even involve Wilson. Lightning’s motivations are so inconsistent throughout the film that you never know what to root for. One minute he wants to train like the old days with Doc Hudson. The next minute he’s asserting that he needs high-tech racing gear to win. Which actually brings me to my next point.
Doc Hudson, played by the late-great Paul Newman in Cars, was absent for Cars 2 but makes a return in this film thanks to old recordings of Newman and flashbacks. What makes this film better than the last Cars movie is that the film has a much more grounded tone. We are taken back to Radiator Springs and Route 66 and the legacy of Doc Hudson plays a major role in Lightning’s story. He respects his mentor more than anyone else but he refuses to end up like Doc was. Lightning strives to be better than Doc in the sense that he doesn’t want to be as lonely or dejected as Doc was when the racing world turned its back on him. It’s these sequences that give the film some of its best moments. It provides nice parallels between Doc’s story in Cars and Lightning’s journey in Cars 3.
Armie Hammer stars as main villain Jackson Storm and if you’re wondering who the most wasted actor in Pixar film is, it’s Hammer. Nine times out of ten, a Pixar villain is a complex and intricate character like Lotzo from Toy Story 3 or Charles Muntz in Up. Here’s the other time. Jackson Storm is stupendously unlikeable in every way. There is no arc for the character. He’s one note and he’s a douche throughout the entire film. There is no reason for the character to be this way. No underlying, heartbreaking reason as to why Jackson Storm has this attitude. He’s just a dick and that’s it. Moving on…
In what should come as a shock to absolutely no one, Cars 3 is a gorgeous looking film. From start to finish the animation is rendered beautifully. The colour and lighting in each sequence do a fantastic job of matching the environment the characters move to. Nothing looks the same, every setting is unique. I’m always amazed at the amount of textual detail in these films and the animators really capture the glow of a rural town and make it so inviting. The racing sequences in particular were done exceptionally well. Which again, shouldn’t be a shock given that it’s a racing film.
There is a lot less of Larry The Cable Guy’s Mater in this film and if that doesn’t excite you I don’t know what will. The character was decent in Cars, but he was awful in Cars 2 and this film diminishes his role back to what it was in the first Cars film and it’s great.
The film is definitely geared more towards a younger audience this time around. Despite that gloomy first teaser which showed Lightning McQueen getting into a terrible crash, Cars 3 is considerably lighter in tone when compared to the other two films. Now, technically there isn’t anything wrong with this since I’m obviously outside the demographic that Pixar was looking to entertain here. However, the movie does feel like it’s being dragged down by its G rating. Car puns are great and all and slapstick humor can be funny when done right, but after a while, it really does get annoying.
Pixar’s main composer Randy Newman is once again back to compose Cars 3 and, once again, delivers a great score. If Cars 3 does anything right, it’s the music. Newman’s score draws you right back into the anthropomorphic cars world. The score perfectly embodies how each character is feeling in big moments throughout the feature and shows was Newman is the go-to-guy for Pixar movies.
Cars 4 will probably happen. It shouldn’t. But it probably will.
All in all, Cars 3 is a mixed bag. It’s a definite improvement over Cars 2, but it’s nowhere near as good as the other films Pixar has put out. It’s gorgeously animated and has some great performances from Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo and even Nathan Fillion. Unfortunately it wastes the talent of Armie Hammer and is so all over the place that you can never feel the emotion the film is trying to convey. There’s something here for kids and long-time fans of the franchise but overall, it’s just fine.
Nick’s Rating – 6.7/10
Mathew’s Rating – 6.5/10
Artur’s Rating – 6/10
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