For more than twenty years now, Pixar has been producing a series of acclaimed, technologically innovative, profoundly emotional, absolutely hilarious, thoroughly entertaining animated films. They have also been making the Cars movies, a series of well-intentioned, mostly forgettable animated features about an off-putting world full of anthropomorphic vehicles and their shared obsession with car racing, which – since they themselves are cars – is essentially a ridiculously long, circular foot race.
These Cars films have been the bane of logical thinking since their inception, and no amount of “fan theories” seem to have ameliorated the disturbing possibility that we aren’t watching family films at all, but are instead watching a horrifying post-apocalyptic reality in which these cars killed every man, woman and child on Earth and have usurped every aspect of human culture. And to what end?
I can only assume we have become fuel for these cars, and that our corpses were ground up into the oily necrotic sludge that now powers these vehicular manslaughterers. That also explains why they were so hesitant to accept the new and environmentally friendly fuel sources that were offered over the course of Cars 2. They had to put those dead bodies SOMEWHERE.
But I digress. It’s safe to say that the Cars films are not actually horror stories in disguise but instead fanciful, family-friendly entertainments that aren’t supposed to be thought about very much. The latest film, Cars 3, illustrates this point. Cars 3 tells a story that only middle-aged adults staring down the barrel of retirement can fully appreciate, but tells it in such a way that only the littlest of kids could possibly be entertained.
Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is still a champion racer, but a crop of new and improved vehicles are starting to dominate the racing circuit. McQueen’s peers have started taking the hint and rolling into early retirement, but McQueen refuses to accept the possibility that his career is over, and pushes himself into a genuinely horrifying crash.
Fortunately, every sports story includes a comeback. Lightning McQueen gets a naive young trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) – and spends more time training her than vice-versa – and eventually he makes the following wager with his new sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion): if McQueen wins his next race he’ll stay in the game and be a celebrated champion, but if he loses he’ll become a millionaire spokesperson (spokescar?) and never have to worry about anything else again for the rest of his life.
If you were paying attention to that last sentence you may have noticed one of the biggest flaws with Cars 3. This is a film with very little at stake, and in the sports genre – especially the hyper-simplified sports stories we often tell to kids – that’s a one-way ticket to boredom. We theoretically understand that Lightning McQueen is trying to reclaim his dignity, but he’s pretty much worshipped, beloved and honored by everyone except a new crop of rookies (screw ‘em) and one hack talk show host (screw him too). Dramatically speaking, it’s hardly one of the Rocky movies. (Well, maybe Rocky V.)
Lightning McQueen’s plight is understandable and sympathetic once you reach a certain age, but by that age we probably expect more from our entertainment than these fluffy, ill-conceived Cars movies have been able to offer, at least so far. They are good natured films but it’s not unreasonable to expect more, especially from a company that has spent over two decades producing exactly the sorts of films that – to varying degrees – make Cars 1, 2 and 3 look bad in the first place.
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Top Photo: Disney / Pixar
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.