Vrrmmm Vrrmmm! It’s time to head into the world of Cars- Cars 3 to be more specific. Pixar’s latest animated offering was met with groans and derision from many when it was announced, as the Cars franchise is not the most popular amongst some fans. However, I am not a Cars hater and liked Cars and actually had fun with Cars 2(yes I don’t hate Cars 2 despite its flaws. Deal with it). So I met the arrival of Cars 3 with the normal anticipation of a Pixar sequel- curious to see where it would go and anxious for the ideas of the animators.You will never see me not excited about a Pixar film. It will never happen.
Then we got the trailers and they were fantastic! The teaser promised a new tone and feel to the series but then the actual trailers were more standard and showed a sports movie story in the vein of Rocky 3 and 4. I like sports movies so that was fine with me. A side of me was hoping Cars 3 would be a redeeming movie to the franchise that everyone would love but the response has been about 60/40 praising it. Truth is, if you hated the first two Cars movies then it will not win you over. If you liked the first but hated the second you might like it. If you liked both you will definitely like it. I’m in the latter camp and so I really liked Cars 3. I’ve seen it twice now and if anything I liked it even more on the second watch.
The basic plot of Cars 3 has Lightning reaching the end of his racing career. He’s getting older and new, faster cars are joining the circuit. A new rookie named Jackson Storm proves particularly hard to beat and enjoys taunting Lightning for how old he is. Then one day Lightning gets in a horrible accident and must put himself back together for a comeback.
Most of us have seen the crash in the trailer but it was still very impactful especially in 3D. The racing in Cars 3 felt so real and tactile it was very impressive. To see Lightning fly through the air and come to pieces was pretty upsetting especially with the great score by Randy Newman.
What follows for Lightning is a period of introspection where he thinks a lot about his mentor Doc Hudson who was also forced out of racing by a crash. As someone who has always had mentors and people I looked up to I found these scenes very touching. Plus, you get to hear the late Paul Newman voicing Doc using old interviews and clips. I couldn’t believe they were able to find such perfect dialogue from him to match the scenes. Well done!
Another similar moment that meant something to me is when Lightning goes to Rusteze headquarters for training and finds out that Rusty and Dusty have sold the company to a new owner named Sterling. Rusty and Dusty are voiced by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, who are the voices behind Car Talk on NPR. I’m not a car person but their show brought a lot of joy into my life and Tom has since passed away so it was meaningful to me to hear their voices again in Cars 3. All the voicework across the board was great in Cars 3 but these resurrected voices were especially powerful and touching.
Anyway, they have sold the business and Sterling has set everything up with the highest technology to train Lightning and other racers. He has a trainer named Cruz Ramirez, who was probably my favorite character in the film voiced by Cristela Alonzo. She is bubbly and positive while having a bit of a sarcastic, cynical side to her.
I won’t go into the rest of the plot but they meet Smokey, Doc Hudson’s mentor (Chris Cooper), and Lightning learns what he meant to Doc, and they even end up at a demolition derby!It all builds to a really satisfying conclusion worthy of any sports movie. Chariots of Fire here we come 😉
There are many positives to Cars 3. As I said, the animation is first rate. The racing sequences are amazing, and I loved the way the mud splattered and flowed at the demolition derby. It was perhaps the best mud I’ve seen in a cgi film!
Just like all the Cars movies the soundtrack is also outstanding. We get great covers from Brad Paisley, Lea DeLaria, ZZ Ward, Andra Day and more.
People that hated Cars 2 will also be glad to hear it has been completely forgotten in Cars 3. I didn’t even see any Easter eggs or hints to Cars 2. There is also way less Mater and the few sequences he is in worked well- giving Lightning a friend to talk to when he is struggling with training.
As with all Pixar films, I loved the messaging of Cars 3. First of all, the idea of teaching kids that their elders are still people with emotions and stories to share is a good thing. There is something in current pop culture that often portrays old people as worthy of ridicule or mockery. As silly as it might sound, Lightning’s story may just start a few conversations between families about ageism and listening to your elders- just like Lightning did with Doc and then Lightning does for Cruz.
I also loved Cruz’s story arc. She is presented as a character who is told what she can do because she is different- both female and a minority. “You can be a trainer. You can’t be a racer” is drilled into her and if that happens enough most of us eventually believe it is true. For decades women were told ‘these are the careers you can have’ and that is it.
I particularly found it moving during a pivotal moment where Jackson Storm tells her ‘How long do you think you can play dress-up?”. It reminded me of an old article I love called ‘A Pinch of Reality’ by Lynne Tempest. She talks about the women she knows who feel like imposters in their own lives:
“What if I can’t do it? It’s just a matter of time before they discover I really don’t know what I’m doing’. These were common refrains played over in my mind during my first months as editor. It didn’t’ seem to matter that I had been intimately involved in the production of network for 6 years. I knew it was just a matter of time before they found me out. I was scared. I felt alone:
“Why is it so hard for women to accept their own genius? What are we afraid of? And what does it mean when we don’t allow ourselves to relish in a job well done? By denying our own capabilities, we prevent ourselves from fully enjoying what we’ve worked so hard to achieve. ”
When Cruz is told she’s playing ‘dress up’ it’s another way of saying she’s an imposter and doesn’t belong. Women have been told that for centuries and it can be very limiting. I love the way Lightning and the other characters refuse to allow Cruz to give in to these thoughts and feelings pushing her along. I love that Cruz wasn’t always strong but wavered and needed that encouragement. It’s something many women will be able to relate with. In fact, it is something Cristela Alonzo said she related to with her early days as a comedian and how she was treated as ‘playing dress up’ with the guys.
Anyway, it was a touching moment I really appreciated, but Cars 3 is not without its flaws. There are some sequences of training that drag a little bit and the story is certainly predictable. That doesn’t bother me because I think it is executed well but it will probably bother some. There are also some characters I would like to see more of such as a commenter car Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington) or Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria) over at the demolition derby. They were a lot of fun and if there is a Cars 4 maybe we will see them again?
It also makes no attempts to explain the world of Cars so if you are someone who can’t let that go then it will continue to bother you. My theory on Cars is that it is all in the imagination of Andy from Toy Story. He has a very active imagination and doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of nature when we see his play in Toy Story 1 and 2. If he is playing with his cars he can make them talk, age, live together in their Car world and even become spies. Cars can be anything he wants! Why not?
Cars 3 is probably my favorite of the Cars movies and the more I think about it the more I like it (who would have guessed a Cars movie would give me so much to think about!). Like I said, it won’t win over new fans to the franchise, but I really enjoyed it and think all involved should be commended on a job well done! Congrats!
Overall Grade- B+ (Right now it is still under Captain Underpants for this year but it could keep rising with more viewings).
My friend AJ joined me to podcast about Cars 3 and I think you will enjoy the insight.