Despite my own love for Pixar’s work, the Cars films have always stood out to me as their least interesting films for I have never particularly been a big fan of the first and I also outright hate the second film (the only Pixar film I’ve held in such a strongly negative light). Now that they’ve come out with a third film, I’d only wonder how much more merchandise would they have wanted to produce from an elaborate universe that also manages to be one of the least imaginative that I’ve seen Pixar sink themselves down to. But at the very least it’s nice that in Cars 3 they didn’t go too far-fetched like they did with the second, yet it still reaffirms how I’ve always felt about the world of Cars from the first day. This doesn’t feel like the Pixar that I’ve loved on a consistent streak, it’s just them doing what’s typical of an animated film for the family out there, and I can’t find myself buying into it.
This new Cars film brings the focus back onto Lightning McQueen as he’s facing the danger of being pushed out of a sport he loves most at the hands of a new generation of racers – much like what had happened to the late Hudson Hornet in the first film. McQueen, not wanting to give up, isn’t without the help of an eager new comrade, a technician that shows far more potential in front of McQueen’s own eyes. Director Brian Fee also spends time taking a look into the story of Hudson Hornet and there comes something new for this series by showing a new challenge for Lightning McQueen’s own end by placing him under this light, but what’s come by isn’t even enough to make the Cars universe nearly half as exciting as the races themselves are. They just come and go, but never seem to leave that big an impression.
For as much as I’ve never been a fan of the first Cars movie, I’ve always been a fan of Hudson Hornet. I’ve always been a fan of the Hudson Hornet in part because of the mark that Paul Newman had left behind in what would have eventually become his final acting role, knowing that there was always something touching in seeing his own spirit pass onto a younger generation in Lightning McQueen. Unsurprisingly, the unused recordings of Newman for flashbacks that involve Doc Hudson turn out to be the best part of Cars 3, because they play as a warning towards McQueen’s character as for what’s set to come by as time goes on. The impact that these moments of reflection leave is an astounding one, because just as the best Pixar films would, they didn’t need to resort to cheap sentimentality. But how quickly does that go all wrong, it all happens everywhere else.
Armie Hammer lends his voice as Jackson Storm and all we know about him is that he’s a cocky, narcissistic new racer: this is the figure who has been established as our main antagonist. And then like the second we have another last minute twist regarding whom our antagonist really is, but in the same sense of said film neither were developed enough to leave a mark. Sure, there was enough of Armie Hammer’s charm to be found but ultimately, they just played out not as characters but as mere plot devices. They seem like plot devices for Lightning McQueen’s own narcissism in order to give himself an arc, but in this case, I don’t really see much reason to care for his own struggles because he doesn’t seem to undergo much change until the final moments. And yet with that said, it just goes ahead to solidify why I’ve never found the Cars universe all that compelling to begin with, because many of these characters don’t even feel like such in order to latch onto them, they’re merely there for the sake of moving the plot forward.
What’s always frustrated me so much about the Cars franchise is how much steam they lose when speaking of their narrative. They seem to run on contrived arcs without carrying enough energy into themselves to have any sort of life being displayed on the screen, or let alone make them distinctive. The storyline isn’t particularly an exciting one in itself because we know how many times we’ve seen it done before (a veteran athlete’s name being put at a challenge when a new, younger rival approaches), but it’s not like there’s any active harm being done because Disney and Pixar already know what’s safe by following a pathos that’s almost similar to that of Rocky – and because of how much they just tread along this path, it doesn’t merely feel just like something Pixar would do. At best, it’s sporadically entertaining but at its worst, it just feels like a tedious exercise (as if the first film, being Pixar’s longest film to date, didn’t feel such already).
At the very least we didn’t keep all the attention on Mater who was already annoying enough in the first movie and even more so as the lead character of the second. And in typical Pixar fashion, it’s a pretty film to look at. But I don’t even see why this universe needed so much expansion because the Cars characters were never particularly compelling enough to spawn stories this long. It still amazes me that after Toy Story, these are the first films that came to mind for Pixar to make sequels to especially when the ending of The Incredibles was calling for one. Because that’s what the Cars franchise seems to have been doing since day one, they tread on the surface rather than go beneath to become something far more complex and memorable: I just miss the days when Pixar had consistently released a truly great film after another. But at least it was a significant improvement over Cars 2.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Brian Fee
Screenplay by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich
Produced by Kevin Reher
Starring Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Nathan Fillion, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 109 minutes