After a disastrous crash, Lightning McQueen has to go to car rehab if he wants to keep racing against younger, more advanced cars.
Brian Fee, 2017
Veteran racing car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) struggles as the world of racing changes. The new young racers are faster and more technologically advanced, while Lightning sticks with his old methods. Eventually Lightning can no longer cope, and he is involved in a spectacular crash. After his recovery back home in Radiator Springs, he tries to get back on his feet…er, wheels, with the help of new manager Sterling (Nathan Fillion) and motivated personal trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Cruz tries to train Lightning slowly, but he’s determined to get back in the game, and take Cruz on a road trip to all the old haunts of his beloved (and dead, which, how do cars die in this world?) previous mentor, Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). The road trip reveals Cruz’s desire to be a racecar herself, but the racing world was not kind to cars like her who “looked different” (girls. She’s a girl. Girl cars don’t race. The film never explicitly states this, but that’s what they’re saying here.)
So Pixar’s Cars franchise goes on and sells more toys, despite the lukewarm response to the first film and the positively chilly response to the second. Cars 3 isn’t as bad as Cars 2, but that’s not a high bar to clear. Personally, I quite enjoyed the first Cars; using sentient cars to explore the way highways have destroyed small town American culture was interesting conceptually, and the movie looked great and had a lovely soundtrack. Cars 3 smartly returns to its roots, ditching the heavy Mater focus and silly Europe-set spy storylines of the second film in favour of the slower, beautifully shot all-American setting of the first one. However, where the metaphor of the first film makes sense, the second one…doesn’t. With the story following Lightning’s crash and subsequent suggestions that he’s too old to race, along with Cruz’s failure to get started as a racer, questions of age, gender and race in sentient cars are raised and left unanswered. This universe makes no sense and follows no rules. They do dumb things for gags like tractor tipping and bugs in windshields that make you question the whole universe, and then that’s all you do for the whole movie runtime because it’s so damn boring.
Ultimately, though, the problem with Cars 3 is that it completely misses its target audience. It’s too slow and boring to appeal to kids, and they can’t relate to the film’s plot or pre-existing characters. Expecting children to understand the feeling of being old and obsolete and passing on the mantle to a new generation is a little too much. It’s also too much to expect kids, especially the young ones who really get into the toys and the previous films, to put together Cruz’s struggles with the fact that she’s a woman in a man’s world. I was severely disappointed at how the filmmakers handled that storyline. It wouldn’t be too hard to make the sexism against her clear to children without it being too strong a message for adults – but then, who cares if it’s too strong a message for adults? If you want little Latina girls to feel like they can do anything, TELL THEM. Don’t obfuscate that message by hedging your bets so much that you never even address the fact that nearly every other car that does anything in this franchise is male and stop sidelining Sally. Cristelo Alonso’s work as Cruz brings a little new life to the ageing franchise, but she isn’t enough to sustain Owen Wilson’s lacklustre, bored-sounding Lightning McQueen. Fortunately the film goes light on Mater and oddly heavy on Doc Hudson, Paul Newman’s character from the first film, who was a highlight of that movie. There are some gorgeous shots in Cars 3, and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy them because the adrenaline-pumping races are few and far between. This is a poorly written, poorly structured movie that doesn’t appeal to kids.
Cars 3 on IMDb