The 'Cars' franchise is probably the strangest anomaly of the Pixar films. The original has spawned sequels, shorts and companion films, as well as a wave of merchandise, and yet the films have been lukewarmly received at best. By comparison to the best the studio has to offer, the 'Cars' films feel slight and uninspired. Pixar clearly see something to pursue though, as we now have ‘Cars 3’, the third official film in the franchise. Does this new chapter improve on the others, or offer the same forgettable experience?
Lighting McQueen (Owen Wilson) has his position as a champion racer challenged by a new breed of elite racers. Determined to remain on top, he ends up in a crippling accident that forces him to start from scratch. Encouraged by his new trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) and the memory of his old trainer Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman), McQueen has to find his drive again or admit defeat with the future ahead.
For all their faults, the previous Cars films at least had a sense of humour and a kind of harmless charm. Both these things are surprisingly lacking from ‘Cars 3’, making it the weakest film in a series that wasn’t particularly strong to begin with. Debut director Brian Fee makes a valiant attempt to reconnect the franchise with the tone and texture of the original film, but he lacks the snap and humour of John Lasseter to make it work, and the film feels a old-fashioned and lacking in spark. The screenplay relies heavily on McQueen’s emotional memories of Doc Hudson, resulting in far too many self-reflexive scenes at the cost of action, and a non-cocky McQueen just isn’t a strong enough character to drive the narrative forward or hold attention. Both the original characters and the new ones are inadequate sketches as opposed to anything substantial, making it hard to genuine care about any of them. This might sound ridiculous when we’re talking about a film full of talking cars, but feeling for them is very much what the film wants us to do. It’s so full of misplaced emotion that it ends up just feeling obnoxious and a tad boring. Even the weakest of Pixar films tend to have at least some technical merit, but ‘Cars 3’ isn’t even a particularly strong technical achievement. The animation may be more refined than previous entries, but it’s pretty much the same as you would expect. In fact, its reliance on the original film ends up working against it, making the film look and feel predictable.
'CARS 3' EXTENDED TEASER
You could maybe argue that great filmmaking and storytelling aren't the point with these films, and that entertaining children is more important, but ‘Cars 3’ fails even in this respect by relying on long dialogue scenes and heavy emotions, offering little to keep kids entertained. The race scenes have a kind of familiar thrill, but again, it’s a trick we’ve seen before from these films, and the new characters don’t add anything fresh to the film. Pixar have always excelled at world-building, but the world of Cars isn’t as thought-through and considered as their others, and those gaps in the world-building (which ‘Cars 3’ can’t seem to fill) leave plenty of places for audiences to fall in and lose interest, regardless of their age.
It’s so full of misplaced emotion that it ends up just feeling obnoxious and a tad boring.
The only thing ‘Cars 3’ has working in its favour is the addition of Crus Ramirez, the only sympathetic character in the film. Her journey is the most interesting, from a trainer to a racer with the potential to exceed McQueen, and while she is unfortunately still a female character only given a chance to succeed by the men around her, it’s nice to see Pixar shift the focus to someone for girls to connect with in a film that's exhaustingly masculine.
Any suggestion from the publicity material that ‘Cars 3’ was a step in a new and exciting direction for the franchise disappears within minutes of the film itself. This is pretty much business as usual, almost entirely to the film’s detriment. ‘Cars 3’ is harmless, forgettable, humourless and dull, easily the weakest film in both this franchise and in Pixar’s wider body of work. There’s little to appreciate about it, and with this being the third weak film in a row for Pixar, suggests that the once great animation studio really need to take a moment and rethink where they’re going. Films like ‘Cars 3’ just don’t do their legacy justice.