I saw Cars 3 on the same day I watched the top ten showcase from Tallgrass’s Down to the Wire film race, in which teams of filmmakers had a mere 24 hours to make a short film. To mix a bunch of metaphors, the gap in creativity on display did not reflect kindly upon Cars 3.
Cars 3 is every sports movie you’ve ever seen. Particularly, it’s Rocky 3, where our aging hero, in this case the race car Lightning McQueen, discovers that he’s been passed by a younger, sleeker, model, named Jackson Storm. Storm is simply stronger and faster than Lightning McQueen is, and no matter how hard he tries, there’s just nothing McQueen can do about it. It takes Lightning some time to realize this, at which point he decides he needs to enter a rigorous training regimen, complete with races on the beach, though sadly Eye of the Tiger never plays over a rousing training montage. Eventually, Lightning finds himself back in a race against Jackson Storm, and how that turns out, I won’t say, because in that sense we do at least depart from Rocky 3.
“But what’s the big deal,” you ask, “the movie’s made for kids, they won’t know the difference.” The thing is though, kids are a lot smarter than we often give them credit for, and even if they haven’t seen Rocky 3, they know when they’re not being given something original. None of which is to say that Cars 3 is unpleasant, it’s perfectly mildly enjoyable throughout. It’s just that there’s nothing new.
Cars occupies this strange space in the Pixar world—it’s going to make a ton of money and sell a bunch of toys, but unlike other Pixar movies, it seems designed to do exactly those things, rather than to deliver intelligent and heartfelt animation that evokes genuine emotion. And there’s nothing wrong with that, exactly, it’s just that it’s not something we generally associate with Pixar—they’ve never seemed to be about the cash grab, except in the case of the Cars franchise, and it just makes me wonder, after two Cars movies, and two Planes spinoffs, if this one was really even necessary.