By Andrew Jenck, for Tillamook County Pioneer
(Cars 3 is currently playing at Tillamook’s Coliseum Theater.)
Every family has that black sheep, and the Cars films seem to be that to Pixar Animation. They’re considered some of the worst the studio has produced and yet, are one of the most commercialized, overabundant franchises from Disney, which is saying a lot. Still, the first Cars film on its own was alright. It was overlong, had little conflict, and played out in the clichéd egotistical hotshot becomes humbled in the simple life story, but its heart was in the right place and did have its moments, especially, the ending. I feel most of the criticism is from Cars 2, a result of the commercialism-making, Mater, the comic relief, the main star, and going from a racing to a spy film, but with cars.
That sequel left such a bad taste that Cars 3 seems to write it out of existence and puts the focus back on Lightning McQueen. Now he’s the past-his-prime veteran trying to keep up with the more technologically advanced rookies entering the scene, in which he has a career-threatening crash, similar to mentor, Doc Hudson. As a result, he tries to recover by teaming up with a full-of-energy trainer named Cruz Ramirez. This is what Cars 2 should have been about: Lightning trying to get back to the top while also becoming a mentor to Cruz. Doc’s voice actor, Paul Newman, passed away in 2008, so this film works as a nice remembrance of him. His legacy plays a key role in the film, as Lightning learns more about Doc’s past and how he can still be a part of racing, even when he retires from racing. The story is rather poignant at times, and as someone who grew up with Cars, it was a nice trip down memory lane (no pun intended).
Things aren’t all glory though. While Lightning and Doc’s buddies work well as characters, the supporting cast is unmemorable. There’s one pointless sequence that just promotes the next line of toys. I understand that the real villain is Lightning’s age and time, but they could’ve fleshed out Jackson Storm beyond just being the arrogant hotshot, such as drawing parallels between him and McQueen from the first movie. Unless you’re a fan of NASCAR, you’ll find the racing scenes to be underwhelming, feeling nowhere near as creative as some other sequences that Pixar animates. It’s a shame because the animation is very well-detailed, and the cars can even look realistic from the rear. The infamous crash scene has basically been shown in its entirety, and they have a time skip where you miss some potentially dramatic moments.
The biggest problem, however, is Cruz Ramierez. She always tries to crack jokes, either being awkward or boastful, and it gets old really fast. They give her a backstory, but it’s revealed through an emotional, expositional heavy scene that’s been done to death, something that Pixar has been above doing. She’s crucial to Lightning’s development and the climax of the film, which is too predictable, and drags the film down a bit.
Despite my ramblings, I do think this a perfectly fine film. If you’re a fan of the first film, you’ll probably really like this one. If you’re being dragged by your kids to see it, you’ll be able to tolerate it. As someone who sees a lot of mainstream films, I can definitely say this has more heart and effort than most of those films, so I’d say that’s a recommendation; just don’t expect anything along the level of Inside Out or Toy Story.