Director: Brian Fee
Starring: (voices of) Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Larry The Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Lee DeLaria
Run Time: 109 mins
‘Cars 3’ is the latest Pixar film to grace our cinema screens and it is the sequel to, you guessed, ‘Cars’ and ‘Cars 2’. It has often be remarked that the ‘Cars’ franchise is lower-tier Pixar, sub-standard to the rest of their films. ‘Cars’ was famously the first Pixar film to not score above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes on its release and ‘Cars 2’ is the only Pixar film to have been very negatively received. This is quite unfair in my opinion as I found a lot to like in ‘Cars’ – it’s a film about trying to fit in and it has some glorious race sequences and I thought ‘Cars 2’ was actually an improvement. The prospect of a second sequel seems a little bit strange due to the lower reception of these films for general audiences but to me, this has a lot of promise. ‘Cars 3’ reverts to the figurehead Owen Wilson-voiced Lightning McQueen as its main character after many people rejected Larry The Cable Guy’s Mater in ‘Cars 2’ as being annoying. An ageing Lightning McQueen has to face the prospect that he is not at his peak anymore after a crash as he races against a new generation of racers. The film deals with his quest to make himself better so that he can keep up with the new crop and he receives training from a new character, Cruz Ramirez who has always longed to be a racer too but lacks the confidence. John Lasseter doesn’t return to the director’s chair for this film and this is instead directed by Brian Fee who has plenty of experience in Pixar over the years. I was really impressed by the marketing campaign for this film – a trailer detailing McQueen’s crash, a stunning photorealistic image to behold breaking the boundaries of what animation can or can’t do. This seems like a risk for the franchise, to try and win newfound fans after the first two films.
‘Cars 3’ unfortunately, is a step-down from the previous installments and we really don’t get the seemingly genius film that was marketed. Whilst ‘Cars 3’ hints towards a better film multiple times and has some really good moments, it is surprisingly generic. Pixar have always stated that their story is their number-one priority and it needs to be worthy of the Pixar name for it to get made. I’m genuinely surprised of the result in this instance. A strong opening sequence and the heavily marketed crash are all promising but the film meanders along a well-worn road of cliche and I have some big problems with how the film ends. It doesn’t have the same sense of energy the first two films had and even emotionally, the film feels rather cold – Pixar are normally geniuses at pulling the heartstrings, sometimes even manipulatively. Instead, there is no effort whatsoever here.
There are individual sequences that do work in their own right and there are a number of times where it looks as if the film is really going to pick up but it never does. Most promisingly, as soon as McQueen’s crash happens in the film’s opening, the film feels as though it’s going to take a really mature route and explore the inner character of McQueen – I would have been really impressed if it had done this. Shortly after this, there is an extended sequence where McQueen talks with his sponsor and again, what the film could have done was had an interesting critique on sponsorship. The film never decides to be mature and instead it degenerates into a film that is too overly kid-friendly and it doesn’t work.
To Pixar’s credit, the animation is outstanding and McQueen’s crash in particular is one of their best works. As mentioned, there are many stunning photorealistic shots of various landscapes and the attention to detail is mind-blowing. However, as I previously mentioned for ‘The Good Dinosaur‘, another film that suffered similar tonal problems to this film, if all you are looking at is the animation then there must be something seriously not right with the narrative and this is sadly the case. Even Randy Newman’s score isn’t overly memorable and although there are cues of promise, these are never fully realised – it’s all rather slap-dash.
It’s a real shame ‘Cars 3’ isn’t as good as it should be, particularly with the lofty promises of its ambitious trailers. The film is too disconnected between its photorealistic lanscapes and its cartoonish characters and Fee can never find a medium between these two aspects. To the film’s credit, it has generally been positively received and I understand that in my perception of the first two films, my opinion does differ to the norm. This should have made me all the more willing to accept this film but it’s sadly generic and severely lacking in its narrative. Although this review is predominantly negative, this is more in relation to the first two ‘Cars’ films which I would rank a lot higher. ‘Cars 3’ only just misses out on scoring a 3-star – it’s not an outright bad film by any means, it’s just disappointingly average and generic compared to Pixar’s normally lofty standards hence why I couldn’t quite bump it up into the ‘Good’ category.
The short film that precedes ‘Cars 3’, ‘Lou’ is wonderful and has a fantastic emotional core to it and a powerful message. A shame that the film that followed couldn’t sustain this standard.