Here’s my review of the newest Pixar film, directed by first-time director and storyboarder-veteran Brian Fee.
Overview: Lightning McQueen is the reining champion of the Piston Cup circuit until a new generation of faster cars enters the racetrack. Tired of getting beaten, McQueen pushes himself too hard and crashes, recalling what happened to his old mentor Doc Hudson. Unwilling to retire, McQueen decides to reinvent himself and visits a state-of-the-art training facility where he meets a trainer called Cruz Ramirez. After failing to perform at the training center, McQueen convinces his sponsor to let him race one more race and sets out to train on his own terms. As Ramirez tags along, she reveals her own ambitions to become a racer were thwarted by a lack of funds and self-confidence. Over the course of the movie, McQueen finds himself mentoring the aspiring racer.
Review: The critics have called this one “good”, or at least, faithful to the original Cars. I definitely see it as a direct sequel to Cars, ignoring the events of Cars 2. Right from the start, we see McQueen thinking about his old mentor Doc Hudson, who was a character in the first film. We also see McQueen competing against his rivals from the first film, that is until they all start to get pushed into retirement by the new generation of cars. While the first movie taught McQueen that having upstanding morals and being part of a community are more important than winning, the second movie taught him nothing at all. The third movie goes back to some more serious conversations and character moments. It talks about adapting to change, pursuing dreams, passing the torch, and it even touches upon equal opportunities.
It makes sense on paper, but Cars 3 lacks inventiveness. You could switch out the cars for humans and keep the conversations intact and you’d have a run-of-the-mill sports movie. There are a ton of human sports movies which are better than this, such as the recent Eddie the Eagle or even The Bronze. Cars 2 might have had a ridiculous espionage plot that completely ruined the movie, but at least it introduced some fun characters and contributed to the world building. Cars 3 fails in that regard. The new rival, Jackson Storm, is barely in the movie. He seems to have been designed and promoted to sell cool toys. The demolition derby could have been a novelty, but the fact that McQueen and Ramirez enter it by accident renders it pointless. I was hoping McQueen would go full Fight Club in his quest to test himself and get over his post-crash PTSD, but I guess that would have been too dark for a kids’ movie.
The only substantial new addition is Cruz Ramirez. I have much respect for the Zumba instructors in my life, and I believe Ramirez’ quirks could have been amusing in the right context, but here she comes across as annoying, selfish and unreliable. There’s a stereotype in the minds of a certain subset of society that says women – or sometimes millennials – get everything handed to them. Cruz Ramirez incarnates this stereotype. She gets an ungodly amount of help from McQueen, prevents him from concentrating on his race, and magically beats the fastest cars. But she served the bigger lesson of the film: McQueen selflessly giving a chance to someone who didn’t get the same opportunities that he did. All it took was a deus-ex-machina switcheroo and too many Doc Hudson flashbacks to count.
Verdict: There’s not much appeal beyond the talking-car shtick, but it’s hard not to feel uplifted in the end.