Review: Cars 3
When Cars opened in June 2006, it was viewed by many to be the first instance of Pixar, an animation studio known for delivering quality product, to focus on cashing in on a highly marketable concept that soon took off and became a major cash cow. It would be hard to complain about the film's success, given that Pixar's later films included more artistically daring titles such as Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up, as well as a third sequel to their biggest franchise Toy Story. But then we got Cars 2, which given its oddball espionage plot that seemed to negate almost everything from the original, was the studio's return to spinning its wheels and collecting another boatload of cash.
Now, Cars 3 attempts to jumpstart some much needed improvement to bring the series back to its original formula - in fact none of the characters or events from Cars 2 are even mentioned. Number #1 racing superstar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) meets his match in the form of Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer) a suped-up, tricked out "younger" model whose superior in every way, not only beating him in several races but totalling him on the racetrack in an embarrassing display. Going into seclusion in Radiator Springs for several months, Lightning eventually emerges to travel to the racing facility of his sponsor Rust-eze, where the company's owner Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion) wants to plaster his face over all sorts of various products (quite the meta touch). Of course, Lightning doesn't want to retire his namesake and, with the help of trainer Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), he takes it upon himself to reclaim his title as the best in his field.
Usually when a series enters its third installment, either a major change of pace is required to keep up the momentum and tell a new story to entice the audience. And while admittedly I'm not a fan of the Cars brand, it's a shame that Cars 3 is, for the most part, running on fumes for most of its runtime. The narrative drifts between tired tropes from other sports movies where the protagonist faces a better, badder new foe, and must rely on their own ingenuity and the assistance of their team to persevere (with a heaping dose of training sequences to boot!). But even though the creative forces at bay are surely capable of telling stories which enchant viewers both young and old, its rare that they feel so exhausting as this one does. Only in the last 20 or so minutes does the story get into gear and by then, the ending can be seen coming a mile away.
While the Cars films are mainly addressed towards a younger age demographic than most other Pixar films, as demonstrated by a lack of complexity and colourful schema (whereas many adults can spend an infinite amount of time ruminating over its post-human world of fridge horror), it is interesting to see how this entry seeks to posit some themes that are a little more developed than one would imagine. Lightning's path in the film is beset by his own mortality - a long-championed figure now unable to compete with the younger generation, at risk for being put out to pasture. It's somewhat weird to make a kids film that attempts to be so anti-youth, though eventually the film settles on the message that even if one loses their passion or skill, they can still be useful for other means. At the risk of being disheartening, its a sentiment that makes sense for what is potentially the last outing in this series, properly executed as the final act in Lightning's character arc.
It's safe to say that Cars 3 will be one of this summer's, if not, the year's most watched films, as it makes for the return of a major film franchise with a wide, lowest common denominator audience, appealing to families and those with a nostalgic sense of being for Americana and car culture. It's still near the bottom of Pixar's efforts (not the total wreck of Cars 2 though), and one would hope for something better as the seemingly last hurrah for the films that had a low bar to begin with. If you're a diehard fan of Pixar or just need an easy way to entertain a small child for 2 hours, then Cars 3 is worth seeing. Everyone else would be better off avoiding it, due to how the story moves around a familiar track at a pedestrian pace that even children will be bored with. Given that Disney has collected over $10 billion in merchandise revenue alone from this series over the past 10 years, that will be the true victory lap this film seeks to earn.