Cars 3 is a bold choice. Like the choice to use your state of the art animation technology to beautifully conceive (seriously Pixar’s landscaping work is just exploding year on year) what is essentially the plot of some 20 mil Fox Searchlight joint don’t make no sense on the surface. They’ve also made this total dad film: a film about the fear of aging, the fear of being outpaced, the fear of the young. Y’all can’t quite grasp without seeing it the subtle contempt that the joint got for youth.
What it does though to sorta mask it, is bundle it in with a disdain for suits and corporations and people who try to tell you what to do. We’ve stepped a way into the future of the Cars universe and Lightning McQueen is starting to lose his grip. He’s been dropping down on the leaderboard all season and finally that burnout literalises itself in that crash we saw in the first trailer. Now it is a good trailer moment but on the whole don’t got too much to do with the plot as it progresses.
It like, this don’t wanna be the story of the athlete who overcomes a personal tragic injury to succeed, it wants to be about the dude who don’t come to training all season stepping up and proving that he still got what it takes. And when all the suits and upstarts with their high tech gidgets and whizzmos try to tell him how to do his job, he gonna blow it all off and prove that the only true way to do it is the old fashioned way. They say that these films are supposed to appeal to adults too. Honestly, if you took out some of the physical comedy sequences there would be nothing here for children.
Look at the cast. I know it different when you talking about animated films, but with the commitment to bringing back as many of the originals as possible, almost everyone in this joint over fifty. There whole scenes just dedicated to the old timers sitting around, reminiscing about the good old days, I don’t know why this such a sticking point to me, it’s just so outlandish to dedicate this much time to what is essentially an exercise in self-involvement. I mean, y’all watching a joint about the good old days of baseball, Field of Dreams or some shit, At least the target audience will be an active participant in the nostalgia for the lost traditions of their youth. Who really gonna care about the bygone days of this fake sport?
Well, it worked on me occasionally, after his absence in the last film we see Doc, Lightning’s mentor, again. Mostly in flashback, his dialogue comprising the recordings made before Paul Newman’s death. Maybe that shit manipulative, but I think those feels, the loss of an idol, the loss of a friend, and the things you learn about them once they die come closer to being universal.
It don’t help that when it comes to the antagonists here McQueen’s greatest complaint is that these newcomers are so rude. Something that the film plays entirely without irony. Seriously movie, did y’all not think to watch the original before throwing this stuff out. You don’t remember that the whole point of that first one was that the dickhead had to learn some humility. I mean, secretly that’s the moral of this joint too, it’s just telling it from another point of view.
Considering the weird approach of the screenplay, with an ending that like totally plays off of Air Bud rules and a technical hijinks move ripped right outta Speed Racer, Brian Fee in the director’s chair for the first time keeps a steady hand on the wheel (whaaaay, car puns). Like the notable thing here is how goddamned restrained my dude is. There’s one point where he introduces a location with a stationary camera and a focus pull over a faded billboard. There this long Chariots of Fire type beach scene where nothing insane happens visually. In these moments he’s expressing this pure understanding of form and focus.
Like, amazing, but it don’t get the film all the way there when it being about the goofy talking cars. When it’s being about wacky hijinks it comes close to the edge, there this demolition derby action scene that shouldn’t be here in this form, I think they just thought it needed an action beat. That’s when it slips off the rails, when the two forms it’s trying to engage in are at odds, the kids flick and the dad style sport joint.
Not that it all a dude thing, this be the first Cars film that actually do right by its women characters. Cristela Alonzo puts in this great turn as the recalcitrant Lightning’s personal trainer, a character who actually has her own shit going on outside her relationship with the lead, and even when thigs do turn back to him she’s this active participant in his development. Also, credit to the filmmakers for creating this nice platonic relationship between these two.
Also of note is the weird addition of Nathan Fillion as a bad guy corporate exec who is intent on sullying the purity of racing by aggressively exploiting Lightning’s personal brand. I’m not sure what point they’re trying to make here. It’s totally gotta be about the Cars merch that Disney hawks. Maybe Pixar don’t like this, or maybe just the filmmakers and not the company. It comes up for just a hot moment there then disappears and I ain’t sure what they trying to say. It’s a hot pick though and I don’t mind it, just could have expressed the point clearer, I guess Disney may have had something to say about that though.
Last thing, I’d like to talk about the immutability of identity in the cars world. The way the filmmakers code identity and personal expression into their characters is odd. Like it’s set up deliberately that a car’s paint job is a mode of personal expression, however they are denied the opportunity to perform outside of ways normative to their bodies. But then we got this school bus and her associated bunch of misfits who seem relatively engaged in the act of body modification. It ain’t explored much and the characters are light comic relief for the most part, but for a film which do have at times matters of gender on its mind, there ain’t no exploration about what makes a girl car as opposed to a boy one.
That last paragraph was commentary, not criticism. I actually like the film a fair amount, I just don’t know if it works. It’s full of all this formal conflict and under the surface it’s messy in this way that Pixar joints rarely are. It hits these emotional beats but I don’t think they’d land for half the audience, and the plotting and dialogue so deliberate and slow. Lightning watches old filmstrips on a 16mm projector. It’s a good story, I just don’t think it necessarily a good Cars story.
Cars 3 is currently screening in UK cinemas