Cars 3

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…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Cars 2

The year was 2011 and PIXAR Studios was on the verge of releasing it’s twelfth feature film. So far, it had been a series of box office hits and it seemed like nothing would ever slow them down however that all changed with Cars 2- a sequel to one of their biggest films and the second sequel the studio had ever made. While the first film was about slowing down and taking pleasure in the small things to get more out of life, this one was about how friends may argue but they are still friends. Of course, changing the moral of your story from one film to the next is to be expected if you want the stories to feel fresh and the moral here is a good one. There just happen to be spy involved.

This time around we follow the tow truck mater as he travels to the World Grand Prix with his best friend Lightning McQueen. After an argument breaks out between them, Mater head back to Radiator Springs, only to become embroiled in a spy mission which puts every race car at a deadly risk. This is a far cry from the simple premise of Cars but I’ll give it credit for being innovative. It’s like if a James Bond film was to focus on the sidekick rather than the man himself, which provides a fresh spin on the classic narrative and is an idea that I love. When it comes to Cars 2 though, I’m not such a fan of that role going to Mater. He’s a fleshed out character, just like the rest of the cast, but as I discussed in my review of the previous instalment [HERE] he isn’t my kind of character. Mater is a stereotypical depiction of a hillbilly, which is an issue in it’s own right, but I really believe that PIXAR is better than that. One of the reasons that I prefer PIXAR films to Disney is that they never speak down to children, opting instead to treat them as equals. Onward director Dan Scallon stated in a recent interview with UniLad [HERE] that “kids are smart, they go through some tough stuff so {talking down to them} doesn’t come up that often.” I feel like this isn’t the case with Mater, whose lack of intelligence is a recurring gag throughout the movie. It was tolerable in passing with Cars but making it the focal point here is quite damaging to the film. In a lot of ways it feels like they’re punching down and that is just not an acceptable form of comedy.

As for the spy plot, I have to admit, I’m kind of a fan. It’s a brand new direction for the studio and it’s certainly a bold one. Taking your story in a new direction is important in keeping your franchise feeling fresh and without that change, you have to lean on character development for growth. Sometimes change can lead to an iconic film like The Empire Strikes Back and sometimes it leads to the creation of something that many people would rather forget like Batman and Robin. Personally, I think that errs on the positive side despite some, like Time Out Magazine, claiming that it should be “towed off to the scrapyard.” There are countless spy films and with them comes countless gadgets but Cars 2 is required to take it one step further. What gadgets could a car use and where would they store them? What does a bathroom brawl look like and what about jetpacks? What would Sir Michael Cain sound like as some kind of Aston Martin with a moustache? Cars 2 manages to provide solid answers to all these questions and I was somewhat impressed by those answers. If you aren’t impressed by these answers, I hope that you can at least find them entertaining. Whether or not a spy plot belongs in a Cars movie is questionable but as a spy plot it wouldn’t go amiss in an instalment of the James Bond franchise and is ridiculously fun in parts. Perhaps the most questionable plot element is that the villains of the piece are “lemons” which are cars that don’t function as well as other high-brand models. Provided you don’t think of the real world ramifications of a rhetoric like this, you’ll be alright. If you are interested though, Jack Saint has a wonderful video on the very subject [HERE] but, be warned, there is profanity. It will also become impossible to view Cars 2 in the same way again, which is something I had to learn the hard way.

We now come to what is perhaps the most consistently wonderful part of any PIXAR movie- the score. In my review for the original film, I was mildly critical of the Pop!Country soundtrack which has mildly dated the film but that is not the case here. Cars 2 may have songs within the first half hour that I find forgettable but the score leans heavily on the spy aesthetic. I often listen to the score of a film as I’m writing about it and tracks like Mater’s Getaway are just as motivational as tracks from The Pirates of the Caribbean. It should come as no surprise then that the score was orchestrated by the always wonderful Michael Giacchino in his fourth collaboration with the studio. The art style of the film has also improved since its predecessor with some flat-out amazing wide shots of Japan, Italy and London. This is due, in part, to the evolution of CG technology in those 5 years but how that technology is used is just as important. If you aren’t super keen on this film, that is perfectly understandable but there is definitely enough in Cars 2 for every generation to enjoy.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbour hood queer