The Cars trilogy is a bit of an odd one. I found the first film to be delightful enough, and a decent dive into the “find yourself” trope, while the second was a mostly entertaining spy/action flick. This brings us to the third instalment, which returns to the “find yourself” trope in what, I think, might end up being the best in the series. There has been a noticeable amount of change in the 6 years between Cars 2 and 3, and so it is perhaps no surprise that the series chose to return to its character-centred roots. With the upgrade in technology and the once new animators taking on more senior roles within the company, there was clearly a passing of the torch on the horizon. That’s what Cars 3 has always felt like to me – a company with its eyes on the future.
We follow star racecar Lighning McQueen as his career faces a massive upheaval with the rise of more technological cars like Jackson Storm. As the last of the old guard and recovering from a severe crash, Lightning is determined to be better than ever, leading him to a new training regime under the eyes of Cruz Ramirez. If you are familiar with the sentimentality of PIXAR and the way in which they tell stories, then you can probably guess how this is all going to end, but that doesn’t make the journey any less powerful. This, like the original Cars, is an Unwilling Mentor story, with Cruz being the unknowing trainee. For the majority of the plot it feels like Lightning might still be in with a fighting chance, he isn’t that rookie filled with unwarranted bravado anymore, he’s a veteran of the sport who is in a great deal of denial and fear- which are perhaps the greatest motivators. The parallels between the original Doc/Lightning dynamic and the Lightning/Cruz dynamic are a given, but Cars 3 spends a little more time on the former than you might think.
Sadly, the world of Cars lost one of its primary voices when the voice of Doc Hudson – the late Paul Newman- passed away. Whilst there are moments in Cars 2 that feel made to honour him and his legacy, this film practically feels like a love letter. There is no denying how heavily his loss is felt during this film, and how much he was loved by all involved. Thanks to un-used and re-used audio, he receives one last turn as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, but never once does it feel cheap. Whilst Cars 2 was also affected, there never seemed to be a quiet enough spot to properly acknowledge the impact that Paul Newman had. Cars 3 could not have done that job more beautifully.
Whilst the returning cast members are all wonderful in their roles, there is plenty of time dedicated to the talents of the newcomers. Some of these newcomers are already veteran actors themselves, with the likes of Nathan Fillion, Chris Copper and Arnie Hammer providing their voices. By this point, PIXAR has a solid enough reputation that it can call in major actors like these for minor roles, and it feels like a turning point for the company. While it was noticeable in prior films (see Sigourney Weaver in Finding Dory) you now practically expect to hear an A-List star. This isn’t a small studio anymore, it is a multimillion dollar company and a household name. New animators are being hired and trained at the “PIXAR University” all the time, which means that they are now capable of releasing two films per year instead of one film every two years. PIXAR releasing a new film used to feel like a major event, and while it is still A Moment, it doesn’t feel like that gravitas is really there anymore. It has become part of the machine, as it were. I suppose in the same way that Cars 3 is a thank you to the days of yore, my review has become a thank you to PIXAR of yore.
This is now the 18th PIXAR review that I have written and I often feel like I am repeating myself. By now, you know that I find the animation to be first rate, the score outstanding and the voice acting brilliant. I never tire of saying those things, and I have been saying them for quite some time. I know I’m only 23, but watching Cars 3 was a reminder that I’m not some doe-eyed child anymore, and that it’s been more than a decade since I was. I watch this film and I relate more to Lightning and the other racing veterans than I do the newcomers like Cruz. I suppose being blessed with two siblings makes me pine more for nostalgia than I would otherwise. My sister was 2 when the first Cars film was released, and it was one of the first films she ever saw. Cars 2 was released the year before my brother was born and he has now surpassed the age that I was when my sister came along. It’s really odd to me that I have become emotionally connected to the Cars franchise, but that is the situation in which I find myself.
Cars 3 is a film about life. It’s about feeling lucky to live the one you have, and trying not to mourn what has been. It’s about the march of time and the rise of technology and about moving forward. It’s about how sheltered some children might be compared to others, and about whether or not that is for their betterment. Bob Dylan once wrote that “the times, they are a-changin” and movies about life, like Cars 3, make me feel that deep within my soul. Make the most of the time you have with the people you love and the places around you. Appreciate what you can while you can because life’s a beach… and then you drive.
Until Next Time…