In the world of Pixar, "#95" not only represents Lightning McQueen's racing number, but the very year that the first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, was delivered to audiences around the globe. Cars 3 is a film that very much knows it's place in Pixar's history. While the film has a very strong message about the real meaning of legacy, it is ultimately flawed in it's presentation. Directed by first-time director Brian Fee, Cars 3 puts in an honest effort to make up for the heavy weight of the Cars franchise, but can't seam to configure a new legacy. Read the rest of our review of Cars 3 after the break!
Owen Wilson reprises his role as Lightning McQueen, who after a long career full of win faces a daunting task of competing not only against new, younger, faster rivals, but ultimately his own racing legacy. After a fatal crash that tests Lightning's future, Nathan Fillion's Sterling, an entrepreneur/billionaire who buys Rust-Eze and builds a new Racing Center equipped with all of the latest gadgetry, comes to the rescue with the aid of both a new racing coach, Cristela Alonzo's Cruz Ramirez, and the opportunity to cement his legacy through what Lightning feels is a sell-out approach to ending his career: sponsorships, franchising his name into a brand, etc.. When Lightning proves that he needs more time to get back on his feet (or tires, rather), it is up to himself and Cruz to train for the Florida 500 to prove to Sterling that he has what it takes to keep his "faster than fast" title.
The story of Cars 3 is one of the best parts of the film. It's fluid and sensical, and honors the groundwork of the first Cars film. Cruz Ramirez alongside newcomers Armie Hammer's Jackson Storm, Lea DeLaria's Miss Fritter, Sterling, and Chris Cooper's Smokey (Doc Hudson's teacher), are all big highlights. Their fresh new characters add much needed light to the rather stale franchise. And the original score by Pixar-favorite Randy Newman grounds the film in Pixar history. However, all of the best parts of Cars 3, which are some of the most significant aspects of making a compelling story, can't seem to overcome the rather eye-roll inducing nature of the Cars world. Every turn the story takes, every new character that is revealed, is bogged down by the immature talking-car filled fad that is the world of Cars.
Never has the Cars World been as annoying or immature.
During the film's second act, Cruz Ramirez has a deeply touching story of how her family told her growing up to essentially dream small or not dream at all. She resides her professional life to becoming a trainer rather than her true calling of being a racer. The story is there. The character is there. But one can't seam to escape to unintelligible concept that Cruz has a car family. How does she have parents? Can cars procreate? At one point during Lightning's training we are taken to a beach right alongside Rust-Eze Racing Center. Struggling to drive on the sandy beach, Cruz makes reference to a crab that's in her way. Why is there a crab in the Cars world? Do animals exist in the Cars world? How? Are there creatures that live in the ocean? Are they motorized?
All of these questions may seam nit-picky given that many people reserve animated films as kids movies. But for those that don't, these world-building questions become incredibly important in believing that this world may actually exist somewhere. These questions are rather essential to the movie-going experience. If we can't suspend our disbelief, then the story to be had can have no emotional resonance. What is most surprising is that this is work coming from Pixar Animation Studios. The same people behind Toy Story. Ratatouille. WALL-E. Up. Inside Out. All concepts that seam ridiculous on paper but are made to work on screen because of the ingenuity of the Pixar process and the creative minds up in Emeryville. Why is the Cars franchise put on the back-burner? The only explanation that seams to fulfill this curiosity is simply that the film series is made purely to sell toys, which is a rather disheartening truth to ask film lovers to accept.
Can Pixar recoup from Cars fatigue?
Although the unintelligible Cars world frames the story in an ambiguous fog of disbelief, the story that is front and center is rather special. Cruz and Lightning share a similar spark that Lightning and Paul Newman's Doc Hudson shared in the first Cars film. Particularly by the third act of the film, where we have a firm grasp of Lightning's fate, the story really starts to shine. Cruz has a strong emotional character arc that becomes the true heart of the film, and Lightning's acceptance and celebration of his new track in life really captures that Pixar magic that we all know and love.
While the world of Cars has never been more frustrating, the story of Cars 3 couldn't be more fulfilling. Setting aside the harsh reality that the Cars franchise has made Pixar fans accept, the story is still king. It's just frustrating to see such a special story sequestered to a franchise that has past its prime, if it ever had one. Let's just hope that this is the last of the overwhelmingly obvious cash grab that is the Cars machine, propogated almost exclusively by the mogul that is the Mouse House.
Overall Grade: B-
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