Lightning McQueen is back in Cars 3, but a new generation of race-cars is hot on his tail and ready to disrupt everything he’s worked to achieve. In many ways, Cars 3 is Pixar’s Rocky IV. We see our hero badly beaten by an athlete who relies on technology instead of hard, dirty work forcing audiences to ask themselves if an old car can learn new tricks.
Cars 3 examines the pressures many older athletes feel as they reach a certain point in their careers. McQueen is bombarded with merchandise requests from his new sponsor Mr. Sterling, voiced by Nathan Fillion, and is constantly reminded that he isn’t as technologically capable as his new, young competitors. It’s a nice turn-around for a character that is used to being the best-of-the-best as he forces himself to keep up with all the change taking place around him.
Change, especially generational change, is one of Cars 3’s central themes. As Lightning and his contemporaries are slowly pushed out of the sport by the newer cars, the story looks backwards at some of the racers who laid the foundation for Lightning and the rookies. Audiences are given a little crash-course on the history of racing in a way that highlights the fact that things always change and evolve. Yesterday’s rookies are today’s seniors and that’s okay because each of them has new experiences to look forward to as they move forward.
In many ways, Cars 3 is as much about Cruz Ramirez as it is Lightning McQueen. Ramirez is a trainer at the update Rusteze with a life-long dream of being a racer herself. Comedian Cristela Alonzo does a wonderful job of bringing the kind-spirited Ramirez to the big-screen and she is a welcome addition to the Cars family. Ramirez is an inspiring character who comes to realize her full potential throughout the movie and finally believes in herself. While Ramirez is obviously a female car, the movie does a great job of making sure the gender aspect never feels like an important factor. Ramirez is an amazing driver and as a result of her skills and determination she is able to catapult herself to greatness. Expect Ramirez to be a big part of any upcoming sequels because she was easily the stand-out.
Part of the movie follows Lightning McQueen accepting his fate and transitioning into a new life phase that includes coaching Ramiez. It provides a nice parallel to Lightning’s experiences with Doc Hudson in the first film and is a nice opportunity to push Lightning in a new direction. Unfortunately, the themes of mentor-ship that are established throughout the film are essentially cast away in the last 45 seconds. Instead of settling into his new role, Lightning dons a fresh coat of blue paint (so Disney can sell limited edition blue Lightning McQueens) and decides to jump back into the racing game. All of the emotional growth that Lightning experiences is cast aside and he’s quickly pigeon-holed back into a familiar position. It’s a shame too because if the inevitable Cars 4 focused on Lightning learning how to be a coach instead of once again trying to relive his glory days, it would add a fresh perspective to a repetitive franchise.
The main “villain” of the movie, Stormy Jackson, voiced by Armie Hammer, was a simple character with an extremely one-dimensional personality. For a studio that puts so much emphasis on trying to make audiences empathize with every character- even the antagonists- Jackson is extremely unlikable. He’s beyond cocky and his disrespectful attitude towards McQueen and Ramirez persists until the end of the film. At least in other Pixar movies were given an explanation as to why the villains are bad, typically some form of abandonment, but Jakckson is just a dick because the script needed a rude villain.
As is expected from a Pixar film, Cars 3 has some incredible animation. First time director Brian Fee, who started with Pixar story boarding on Cars, did a great job of taking the reign of the franchise from veteran director John Lasseter and guiding the story to new places. Each character is rendered beautifully and their eyes still creep me out. The lighting and color do a great job of shifting to match each new environment the characters find themselves in, ensuring no two locations or tracks look the same. I haven’t seen a new Pixar movie since Toy Story 3, but let me just say that Randy Newman’s score drew me right in and made me feel at home. Even though it’s been a few years since audiences last saw these characters, the score perfectly represents how each character is feeling at key moments throughout the film.
It’s hard for me to really rank this movie because I’m clearly not in the target demographic. The screening I saw was full of kids laughing and clapping along with the action, so if you have some younger family members you want to entertain for the afternoon, I definitely recommend taking them to see Cars 3 because they will love it. But if you’re just trying to catch a movie with some friends or on a date, I say you should wait until it’s on Netflix in a few months. It’s not the worst Pixar movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s no-where near the top of the list. It was also the Cars movie that featured Larry the Cable Guys’ Mater the least, so maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy it? Regardless, I have one final piece of Mater wisdom for all you fine readers: Git-r-done, folks. Git-r-done.