It might sound surprising, but I’m a pretty big Pixar (and Disney) fan. If you’ve been on the Internet for a while, you might have seen others; you can find quite a few on YouTube. I particularly recommend the Super Carlin Brothers for all sorts of fan theories on those franchises and much, much more.
My own interest came about for several reasons over the past few years. One was writing my own children’s fantasy novel, which I’ve written about before. Another was having several good friends at Princeton who were huge Disney fans and were also into Pixar. And the last reason was Big Hero 6, which I saw on general principle because it was a Marvel film. So I didn’t want to pass up Cars 3, and since I’m trying to be more dedicated about reviewing all the movies I see, here’s my take on it. The upshot is, I thought it was pretty good—not Pixar’s best, but easily equal to Cars 1.
My rating: 4 out of 5.
As a writer, I have a particular admiration for Pixar’s dedication to good storytelling. Pixar is probably the most consistently excellent film franchise of all time. For comparison, the next best series that consistently hits almost every note right is probably The Lord of the Rings. Most trilogies can’t even get three hits in a row…which includes Cars. Cars 2 (which I have not seen) is the only real flop Pixar has ever made, and even Cars 1 isn’t rated that great. Luckily, Cars 3 acts like Cars 2 never happened, and it’s on par with Cars 1. It’s hard to tell which is better, in fact. True, that probably makes it just okay by Pixar standards, but “just okay” for Pixar is still a pretty good movie.
In Cars 3, we open with Piston Cup champion Lightning McQueen suddenly being beaten out by the rookie supercar Jackson Storm. Storm is faster and more technologically advanced than Lightning, and to top it off, he’s kind of a jerk about it. But you can’t argue with results. By the end of the season, Lightning is pretty much the only stock car left, with all of his old competitors retiring and being replaced by supercars. Washed up and on the brink of being forced out himself, Lightning gets one last chance to train with the new technology and top trainer Cruz Ramirez and finally beat Storm.
It doesn’t exactly work out.
The first half of the film was kind of weak, I have to say. My biggest complaint was all the “old” jokes about Lightning, which came off as too heavy-handed. But there were other issues with pacing and the direction of the storytelling, like going through an entire racing season in the opening montage. I think the story could have been stronger being fit in a single season and having Lightning struggle with losing ground gradually.
That said, the story soon improves. The interplay between Lightning and Cruz, while a bit rough around the edges, comes together brilliantly by the end. The ending does kind of fall apart under close scrutiny. There were smoother ways they could have brought it together, and I really think they did it the way they did as a contrived way to keep Lightning in racing when he should have just passed the torch completely. Nonetheless, it was a very good story and mostly up to Pixar’s standards, even if it will go a bit over the heads of younger children.