There’s an alternate universe where a version of Cars 3 not too different from its current form is an “Exceptionally Good” movie, an elegaic conclusion to a trilogy that used racing and talking cars to explore the ways we define ourselves and our personal parameters of success in an increasingly fast-paced and polarized world. This Cars 3, the one from our universe, is begging to be that movie.
The problem is that the movie that Cars 3 wants to be depends on us seeing more metaphoric content in racing stories than the series has offered us to date. It needs Lightning McQueen be an unquestioned icon, a beacon of success. But Cars 1 deconstructed and rejected these ideas, while the idiotic Cars 2 refused to engage with them at all.
And so what we’re left with is a movie whose emotional reach exceeds its grasp, which is a shame because this is a legitimately good Pixar film. Though its story relies heavily on sports movie tropes that most over the age of 10 will find old hat, it at least feels invested in executing them with energy and even occasional freshness.
The visuals are genuinely beautiful. The Cars franchise, more than Toy Story, aged gracefully with the improving technology. There’s just so much more interesting stuff to do with vehicles than plasticky toys, more textures and environments to exploit. It’s tough to pick a favorite setting, but the photorealistic Florida beach is simply stunning.
The semi-twist ending requires some Air Bud-level “well, technically the rule book says…” shenanigans, but is quite satisfying, to the point I wish I cared more about the Cars series than I actually do.
It’s not often that the third movie in a trilogy is its best, but, by my count, Pixar has pulled it off twice now.
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.