As the latest in the recent line of Pixar sequels, “Cars 3” is a mediocre offering from a film studio known for high quality movies.
The film centers around an aging Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) as he struggles to stay relevant when the younger racers begin to pass him. With the help of the same cast of characters from the first two movies, McQueen fights against change by working with Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a trainer who wishes she could race in the big leagues. The plot is nothing extraordinary, but that is typical for a children’s movie. It provides a simple story, easy to follow for young viewers while simultaneously offering social commentary for adult viewers.
With the introduction of Ramirez and her struggles, it appears as though the film is going to tackle the issue of women in racing, which is still unbalanced in NASCAR. However, it changes course when McQueen and Ramirez meet some former racers who were friends with Doc Hudson, a racing legend and McQueen’s mentor. One of the old racecars was a successful female racer, with no fanfare made about her being a woman. It was refreshing to see the writers not go for the obvious plot choice and instead simply make it clear that there was no gender prejudice in this fictional universe.
“Cars 3” tackles another hot button issue in the sports world — the debate over the importance of advanced statistics. Mirroring the argument that statisticians are people who don’t understand the sport because they never played the game, a statistical analyst who never raced before joins the broadcasting team. As they check in with her to see why Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) and the other new racers are succeeding, she explains the math and physics behind their success. This is met with resistance from McQueen as well as other broadcasters, representing the old school versus new school battle over analytics in sports such as baseball and hockey.
The majority of the voice actors were a known quantity coming into the third film in the franchise, but new additions like Alonzo and Hammer breathed a little life into the movie. The animation style was nothing game changing either, as it was meant to be in keeping with the previous installments. Audiences have come to expect a new level of animation with each Pixar movie, but the sequels have lacked that innovation.
As a whole, “Cars 3” felt mediocre, but that’s a step up from “Cars 2,” which was panned for its poor writing and absurd plot line. It felt predictable, which is common for a children’s movie, but not as predictable as it could have been. Nothing was particularly new or inventive. It was another reminder that Pixar is on the verge of becoming what Walt Disney Animation Studios was in the 2000’s, a sequel machine that got pushed to the side in favor of newer studios.
With Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, there was a rearrangement behind the scenes involving John Lasseter and other key personnel working more on Disney Animation products. Lasseter has remained as the chief creative officer of Pixar, but took on the same position at Disney Animation. As a result, much of his attention has shifted from Pixar to Disney in recent years, along with other animators and creative artists who took on new roles following the purchase of Pixar. In the wake of this, Disney Animation has become much stronger in their current revival as Pixar fades.
While keeping the state of Pixar and Disney Animation in mind, the plot of “Cars 3” becomes a poignant reflection of real life. Just as McQueen’s racing days fade away and he helps Ramirez to take his place against Storm and the newer racers, Pixar has sacrificed many of their key personnel to allow Disney to regain its place atop the pyramid in the face of newcomers such as Illumination Entertainment, who have produced movies such as “Despicable Me.”
Following this fall’s original movie “Coco,” Pixar will release two more sequels, “The Incredibles 2” and “Toy Story 4.” It feels as though they seem content to continue to coast on their former success for the next few years, leaving fans without another new franchise until 2020. This is disheartening for those who enjoyed Pixar’s originality, particularly in the wake of the disappointment of this latest addition to the “Cars” franchise.