Review: Cars 3

June 17, 2017
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There was a time when Pixar was the studio you could always count on to make family entertainment that appealed to everyone and was absolutely incredible.  Those days are gone.  Sure, the brand is still strong but after flops like Brave and The Good Dinosaur, I go into a Pixar film with far less confidence than I used to.  The first, and still worst, bad movie that Pixar made was Cars 2Cars wasn’t a very good film to begin with but Cars 2 was pure crap.  It was as if they were already working on a kid’s spy film and just decided to shove the Cars franchise into the story as a way to guarantee butts in seats.  But we’re not here to talk about the turd that Cars 2 was; we’re here to talk about Cars 3 and whether or not it can undo the damage.  As someone who has a son who’s a fan of the series, I can tell you that it’s enjoyable but doesn’t unring that bell of suck.

The marketing for Cars 3 got off on the wrong foot when they released cryptic teaser trailers that just showed Lightening McQueen getting smashed to pieces in slow motion with the phrase “everything is about to change.”  What?!  Who was that supposed to appeal to?  Turns out the plot of the film isn’t an ounce as dark as that trailer claimed to be and it keeps its light and fun tone.  It is about that accident and how it’s the beginning of the end for our beloved red race car and it chronicles his attempt to return to glory.  It’s kind of like Rocky V and Creed wrapped up into one film and it you haven’t seen those, then consider this a spoiler-free review.

Pixar learned from the mistakes of Cars 2 and returned to what made Cars so popular - make it about McQueen, make it about racing, don’t have him go all over the world for some stupid reason, and don’t (thank God) make Mater a main character.  This story is as small as it was in Cars and it reunites the Radiator Springs crowd on a small but welcomed basis.  Owen Wilson returns as the voice of McQueen and his performance feels less phoned-in than it has in any of the other films.  Perhaps that’s because this is the first time the character has a believable change in motivation.  

The new characters are poorly written and one dimensional; that’s fine for most children’s films but this is Pixar so it feels disappointing.  Armie Hammer is the villain as Jackson Storm, the amazing Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Monsters University) is the new owner of Rusteze, and the unknown Cristela Alonzo is his new trainer.  Alonzo has the only character worth talking about and what they do with her is inspiring and emotional but it’s a twist you see coming within five minutes of meeting her character yet are forced to wait another 70 minutes before it being realized.

In an odd way, Cars 3 addresses what’s it’s like to be and have a dad.  Pixar decided to use the death of Paul Newman as a way to kill off the character he played, Doc Hudson.  What this does and means to McQueen is not the caliber of emotion we’ve expected from Pixar films but it’s not half bad.  This was the first Pixar film to give me a lump in my throat since the spectacular Inside Out and I’d be lying if that didn’t totally shock me.  The Cars franchise is one that I never thought would be anything more than a money-grab for Disney but Cars 3 is as good at quality cinema as it’s gonna get, I think.