After the disaster that was Cars 2, no one expected a sequel. When the trailers came out, and we saw stunning new visuals and a shocking crash, audiences became interested once more. Could Disney and Pixar bring the franchise back from “Larry the Cable Guy: International Redneck of Mystery”?
That’s not a high bar to surpass, and while they succeed, they still fall well short of the original.
Cars was a classic story of youth and pride experiencing a harsh life lesson, one that teaches humility, respect, and altruism. The forgotten towns of Route 66, an old race car left behind retired by younger ones, and a yokel who finds joy in the simple things brought an important message. Audiences, young and old, thought about moving too fast and how progress isn’t always the best thing.
Cars 3 tries to bring in a moral as well, one of aging gracefully and being true to yourself. Sadly, this message is lost and nowhere as decently done as other films. The problem was the first two-thirds of the movie seemed more interested in beautiful CGI environments, multiple silly situations, and two-dimensional antagonists. If Brian Fee and the other writers had only stayed focused, the lesson might have worked beautifully. In fact, the last third of the film was almost perfect, and I only wished they’d shortened or cut other sections to reach that the end faster.
Another problem was the humor, which fell flat and amounted to mostly smiles and soft chuckles. The original had a nice mix of sweet and silly, with a variety of slapstick, quick wit, and tongue-in-cheek references. Cars 3 exchanges this for senior citizen jokes, schoolyard retorts, and Saturday Night Live humor. This change might have been in response to the failure of Cars 2 and its focus on Mater; sadly, they go the opposite direction, making Mater a background character who only shows up for silly appearances and one-liners.
Now, I’m not saying the movie didn’t have its good points. Some of the humor was on the spot, the entire demolition derby scene was fun, and they added a variety of great voice actors. That’s in addition to the graphics, which show how far we’ve come in 11 years of computer animation. From the debris on the track to the sun glinting on a car’s decals, this movie makes Forza Motorsport 7’s E3 reveal look like Gear.Club on the Nintendo Switch.
Sadly, these high marks barely make up for a drawn-out story and overall lack of laughs. I attended with my five-year-old son who is a Cars fanatic, to the point he won’t even answer me if he’s watching the movie. Although he said he liked this sequel, his behavior in the theater suggested otherwise. During the many slow scenes, he was fidgeting, looking around, whispering things in my ear, and even took his 3-D glasses off to lay down in my lap. In fact, he didn’t put his glasses on and sit up until the final race of the film, which only reinforces my critique – they should have condensed the unnecessary parts in the beginning and simply gotten to the point.
Although Cars 3 is miles beyond the second installment, this movie fails at recapturing the fun and emotions of the original. Some may enjoy the story of Lightning McQueen coming full circle, but they might have to brace themselves for a long track to that point. Even children, the core audiences of these films, may become impatient on this long car-ride past boring tourist attractions and cliché tropes.
I give Cars 3 an ambivalent 3.5 pit stops out of 5.
Thanks to Allied for the screening passes.