Cars 3 follows the further adventures of Carry McCarface (aka Lightening McQueen), that hot shot race car voiced by Owen Wilson who’s helped Pixar makes millions (billions?) in merchandising over the past 11 years. Many Pixar fans see this as the franchise that refuses to die, a pure cash cow with far less appeal for adults than their normal output. And while that may true, this third (and hopefully final) installment ain’t bad.
At the very least, Cars 3 gets the series back on course following the dismal Cars 2. While that film inexplicably decided to centre on Mater (the Larry the Cable Guy-voiced Jar Jar Binks of the series) getting wrapped up in a weird international spy plot, Cars 3 wisely puts Mater in the back seat as Lightening McQueen faces a classic existential crisis. We saw McQueen as the young upshot in the first film, but he’s now past his prime and competing with the next gen (Jackson Storm, voiced by Armie Hammer). What does a high-end race car do when facing a mid-life crisis? It’s not like he can go out and buy a fancy car. McQueen looking at the final laps of his career is like Woody seeing Andy getting ready for college, and Pixar once again succeeds in making us feel for these anthropomorphized inanimate objects. Following a terrible crash (featured in an intense teaser for the film that likely scarred many children), McQueen takes the Rocky IV route and goes off the grid to reconnect with his racing roots and train in real environments.
Speaking of the environments, that’s one area this film certainly shines. As we saw in The Good Dinosaur, Pixar just keeps getting better and better and creating beautiful, realistic environments for their characters to inhabit. It makes for great eye candy, particularly when combined with the kinetic racing scenes, but still occasionally clashes with the cartoon eyes these otherwise very realistic cars have as windshields. If you ignore those, some scenes actually appear more realistic than some of the CGI shots from The Fate of the Furious. It’s a strange union, but you get used to it.
Cars 3 plays into several tropes we’ve seen in other Nascar movies like Days of Thunder and Talladega Nights. The story may feel new to kids, but there’s a comfortable familiarity to it that adults will likely appreciate more than the outlandish plot of the second one. It does stall for a while in the second act as McQueen mourns his mentor and continuously fails in his attempts to get his mojo back. While the film does break it up with some action, there’s an overly serious tone throughout much of it, which is tough to sustain for a nearly two hour movie about talking cars, but still better than watching Mater make pee pee and poo poo jokes.
As is Pixar’s way, John Lasseter has brought another artist up through the ranks and has put first time director Brian Fee in the driver’s seat. Fee has worked in some capacity in the art department of most Pixar films since the first Cars movie and proves that he’s up to the challenge of helming one of these beasts. This is the first Cars film Lasseter hasn’t directed himself (he clearly has an affinity for this world), which I’m sure led to many jokes around the studio about the parallels of the old guard stepping aside to let the next wave have their time.
Once again we can all breath a collective sigh of relief as Pixar has not completely lost their way. Next we have the promising Coco coming this fall before we all hold our breath to see how The Incredibles 2 (summer 2018) and Toy Story 4 (summer 2019) turn out.