Cars 3 (2017)
Dir: Brian Fee
The first sequel took a massive diversion from the plot of the original film but this third ‘Cars’ adventure gets things back on track, literally.
Though Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is getting old, he still has the drive to win but newer, younger, cars such as Jackson Storm (Nathan Fillion) are taking to the track with tech and designs that are making his generation obsolete. After a serious crash, Lightning has to find his motivation again with the help of trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).
‘Cars 2’ took the characters and sent them on a globe-trotting spy caper, a move that produced mixed results and critical reactions. I remember it underwhelming the family I saw it with on first viewing at the cinema, though they warmed to it far more when re-watching at home. Thankfully this third adventure goes firmly back to the roots of racing, back on track both literally and metaphorically.
While watching this I was reminded a lot of ‘Rocky’ and the progression of that character over the series, in fact, one character is even called Cal Weathers. There’s a training session on the beach complete with young proteges and rivals, put together in a way that’s not just a generic ‘sport’ film but specifically ‘Rocky-esque’. It’s not a bad reference to make, those films have been incredibly successful and enduring, though I hope they’re not still jump-starting Lightning McQueen back to life for four more decades! Strangely, I can see it now, Lightning versus Tesla’s, having to teach these new electric cars what it means to have a real engine… though in this franchise I suppose they’re all self-driving already.
Where I particularly felt it was lacking was in the development of themes. Pixar are usually wonderful at getting across positive messages of friendship, family and other heartwarming themes that often cut through even narrative weaknesses. This film however just seemed to tireless go over the same general idea of Lightning not retiring until he chooses to, there’s not as much focus given to the series’ original themes such as friendship and teamwork. They are definitely still there in a general sense but not at the forefront or coming across clearly. This is detrimental, especially when seeing how McQueen’s old friends such as Mater have hugely reduced roles (especially in comparison to ‘Cars 2’ where he was arguably the lead) to where I can hardly remember anything Mater said or did in this film, which makes it feel like Lightning McQueen has forsaken his trusted friends somewhat which really undermines the message of the first two films.
There is the establishment of a new character who I expect to be key if the franchise moves forward, Cruz Ramirez, who has been developed to be a strong female lead, trying to push the often male-skewed appeal of the franchise towards girls too. These films have been very heavily led by male characters but to me, it feels very much like redressing that is all resting on the subplot of this one new character, whereas Lightning’s girlfriend Sally, for example, seems completely sidelined. Giving established characters like that a bigger and more important role would have been a better way of tackling the gender balance.
That one strongly recurring idea of ‘I’ll quit when I want to not when people tell me I should’ makes me fully expect that if the box-office returns (which have been lower than either of the previous two) are good enough for Disney, there will be yet another ‘Cars’ movie put into production that features McQuen’s transition into retirement from racing. There’s already a space-bound film from DisneyToon studios set in the Cars/Planes universe in production, so a ‘Cars 4’ further developing the new character of Cruz Ramirez seems pretty likely. ‘Rocky’ had multiple films and has sparked a successful spin-off ‘Creed’ series, so I would think Lightning McQueen isn’t out for the count yet, though the franchise is getting close to moving into the straight-to-video sector and that may be the route for a Cruz-led sequel.
‘Cars 3’ is now available to rent or buy from all the usual places in all formats. I recommend going for an option that will also give you the Pixar short film ‘LOU’ that was screened before the feature film, it’s fantastic. This is not Pixar’s best sequel (that’s still ‘Toy Story 2’) but it does help make a strong enough trilogy and will sell very well as such, kids love these films and characters so a triple set is appealing. I do feel though that maybe it’s time to give this franchise a long rest and develop the stronger properties a little more (I’m still on-board with a sequel to ‘Inside Out‘ that picks up with Riley as a teenager) or an even better prospect would be seeing Pixar make some more fantastic original films.