Cars 3 (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
Despite being as pavonine and pristine as ever, “Cars 3” is yet another disappointment in the painfully mediocre series because it is a product of a confused screenplay. This time, the story is about obsolescence and how one chooses to react in the face of such inevitability. Keep in mind that the target audience is between four to nine-year-olds, but I am not convinced that a typical child within this age bracket would care about the heart of the picture. What it is, then, arguably, is a pessimistic film, certainly not anywhere within the vicinity of Pixar greats, since it goes by the assumption that children would eat up what’s projected onto the screen just because the images are colorful and full of energy.
While the story of becoming obsolete and the thoughts and emotions that come with it may appeal to adults, writers Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, and Mike Rich fail to walk the tightrope between fun and mature content with elegance and grace. Putting harmless and silly jokes right next to a rather serious subject worthy of contemplation simply does not work here. As a result, the drama is convincing, rushed in parts, and lacking focus in areas meant to get to us emotionally. Notice the number of quick flashbacks, a common strategy in pedestrian films, designed to plug in the holes of its emotional core. Aside from confusion when thinking about the filmmakers’ goals, I felt next to nothing toward the material other than occasional amusement.
Voice acting behind each character are well done across the board. Owen Wilson, as usual, is convincing as racing legend Lightning McQueen with enthusiasm to spare on and off the tracks. A standout is Cristela Alonzo as Cruz Ramirez, a trainer who had dreams of getting on a racetrack when she was younger. The character is interesting for two reasons: it touches upon a woman’s place in a male-dominated arena and she is meant to function as a conduit for audiences who put their dreams on hold due to self-doubt.
Had the structure of film been more elliptical, unexpected, and dared to resolve McQueen’s boring issues in order to focus solely on Ramirez, it would have been a highly relatable film because just about everybody can relate to being put in an environment and feeling uncomfortable to the changes one must undergo to adapt to one’s role. Children would relate, whether it be starting in a new school entirely or even a new school year. Adults would relate also, whether it be beginning a new job or receiving a promotion with new responsibilities. The latter half of the film is stronger than the former because the screenplay has turned its attention on the more interesting race car.
Another element that’s lacking is a thoroughly effective villain. This time, it is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), one of the many new generation of cars with parts that are much better. Plus, they race on simulations rather than a dirty, old track. The antagonist is wasted completely, reduced to saying one dig after another against “old timers,” specifically McQueen because he refuses to retire and allow new bloods to take over fully, who cannot compete with his superior breed. The character does not have an ounce of complexity and so the task of defeating him is more like an afterthought than a goal.
With so many brilliant films under the Pixar cannon worthy of receiving sequels, one must wonder why the unexceptional “Cars” series keeps producing follow-ups that no one asked for. Directed by Brian Fee, “Cars 3” shows that retiring the franchise is a long time coming. Let go; let’s put it in the junkyard where it belongs and call it a day.