Cars 3 (2017)

Obsolescent Lightning, very very frigthening

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 our personal parameters of success in an increasingly fast-paced and polarized world. This Cars 3, the one from our universe, is not that. But it is begging to be that film.

The problem is that the movie Cars 3 wants to be depends on us having more investment in the series than we possibly could. It needs us to find significantly more metaphoric content in racing stories than the series has offered us to date. It requires Lightning McQueen be an unquestioned icon, a beacon of success.

But Cars 1 deconstructed and rejected the idea that Lightning McQueen is a hero, while the idiotic Cars 2 refused to engage with the thought at all. It’s like if Toy Story 3 followed up Shark Tale instead of two full-blown masterpieces. It wouldn’t pack the same punch; it’d barely pack a punch 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 lighting, design, and rendering of 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 third installment of the Cars film franchise finds McQueen (Owen Wilson) staring down his own obsolescence. He is starting to get outpaced by younger, more technologically advanced competitors. McQueen has to swallow his pride and enlist the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a whiz kid, as he sets out for one last hurrah in a high-stakes Florida 500 race.

The semi-twist ending requires some Air Bud-level “well, technically the rule book says…” shenanigans, but is ultimately 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.

Is It Good?

Good (5/8)

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