Cars 3 is a movie full of conflicting themes.
The wisdom that comes with age and experience versus the incorrigible, headstrong, take risk attitude that comes with youth. The feeling of knowing when to call it quits, versus working through your lack of confidence and realizing your full potential. Trying to decide when it’s the right time to hide from the world — and when it’s time to rule it.
[Warning: The following contains hints at what’s to come with the story, which could be regarded as spoilers. Nothing explicit, but in case you don’t want to know anything, here’s your heads up!]
Cars 3 asks all of these questions, ricocheting from one end of the equation to the other so fast you’re likely to get a case of whiplash trying to keep up. The film is anxious to discover all of the answers, rushing through the questions that present itself over and over again: Am I good enough? Can I do this? What happens to me after everything is said and done?
If that sounds relatively dark it’s because the movie doesn’t hide from seriousness. Unlike Cars and Cars 2, which tackled popular themes in Disney Pixar movies like friendship and learning to open yourself up to others, Cars 3 feels like one of the most mature movies the studio has released. While it’s nowhere near as dystopian as Wall-e or emotional as Inside Out, Cars 3 rests on the concept of figuring out how to move from one stage of your life into the next — making it one of the more interesting installments of the franchise.
But despite a heavy theme, Cars 3 does a pretty good job of maintaining a light-hearted approach to storytelling. Considering the movie deals with some of the biggest questions that many of us will face in our own lives — daunting, put-them-off-until-later questions — there were two things Cars 3 needed to do to succeed. There had to be comic relief to detract from the gloominess of what was occurring and there had to be something to look forward to.
Cars 3 didn’t succeed on the comedy front, but it more than made up for it with things to look forward to.
Because Cars 3 is both the end of an era and the beginning of a promising future, all wrapped up in an enjoyable, but messy 90-minute film.
This one’s for McQueen
The best part about Cars 3 is that it returns to its racing roots. The second film felt out of place, attempting to be a bigger action movie than the first one. What makes Cars work is the small world Lightning McQueen and his friends belong to. There’s home and there’s the racetrack — everything else is white noise. When McQueen is on the track, nothing else matters and when he’s not racing, all he wants to do is be there for his friends.
Cars 3 carries on the intimate feeling the first movie introduced. As famous as McQueen is, and despite driving across the country for training purposes, the movie is focused entirely on him and a few core people in his life. If the McQueen we were introduced to in the first Cars was an arrogant, conceited guy who couldn’t care about anyone other than himself, Cars 3 is the righteous conclusion longtime fans have been waiting for. In many ways, Cars 3 feels like the only way that McQueen’s personal journey could have ended and, without giving away too much, it’s a much appreciated change.
Everything Pixar wanted to do with McQueen’s character comes to a head in Cars 3, making it feel like a fitting bookend on what could be seen as a trilogy. Like Cars, Cars 3 is a McQueen movie. He’s the star of the universe and the movie never lets you forget it. On one hand, it seems like there was no other way the film could have gone. The setting and ending of the movie is fitting of a character who deserves it, but there are some major misses that it can’t be saved from.
For all the thought provoking ideology and dedication to bringing the franchise back to its racing roots, the most interesting part of Cars 3 doesn’t receive nearly enough attention. Cruz, a bright and peppy trainer-turned-racer who represents the terrifying world of more technologically advanced, better performing cars threatening McQueen’s career, is the show stealer. If McQueen represents Cars’ past, then Cruz is the franchise’s future.
Everything about her, from the pep she carries to her inability to quit, is charming, but it’s the selflessness she possesses that makes her the best part of the film. While McQueen is dealing with his existential crisis’, Cruz is trying to make the best out of life. She wants to push him to his full potential and wants to pursue her own dreams. Cruz fantasizes about the future she wants, but what separates her from McQueen and makes her so much more interesting to watch is the self-doubt she’s flooded with.
In a world of machines, Cruz is the most human and that’s impossible not to resonate with. Cruz worries she’s not good enough and gets down over feeling like she doesn’t belong to a world she so desperately wants to be a part of. She’ll do anything just to be near it, but that feeling of inadequacy doesn’t leave. Instead, she becomes a super peppy, confident, charming car to combat those feelings.
Everything about how she operates as a character is the most interesting part of the movie and, while I understand why this had to be all about McQueen, I wish there had been more time spent on Cruz.
This isn’t the only issue with the movie, though. It takes a while for Cars 3 to find its footing. The film trudges through a period of boringness before getting to the heart of the story it’s trying to tell — one about failure, confidence and self-actualizations. Again, because Cars 3 deals with such heavy topics, it really needs a bit of comedy to make it feel less dreary, but that doesn’t happen. The jokes fall flat and they happen far too sporadically.
For the most part Cars 3 succeeds at what its trying to do, but there are some messy moments that are hard to overlook. Like Cars, it’s enjoyable and McQueen is reborn as the hero that he didn’t get to be in the second movie. Cars has always been one of the more hit-and-miss franchises to come out of Pixar and, while Cars 3 is in no way perfect, it manages to improve upon the second and bring an interesting discussion to the table.
Cars 3 will leave you thinking about a number of things when you finish watching it and there aren’t many Pixar movies that manage to accomplish that as well. For that reason alone, Cars 3 gave me the closure I wanted from it.