Cars 2 is widely regarded as one of the worst movies to ever come out of Pixar’s studio. So bad, in fact, that even Pixar has trouble remembering it.
[Warning: The following contains minor spoilers for Cars 3.]
When Cars 2 was released, critics called it a fairly disastrous sequel and said that it was time for the franchise to “be taken out to the scrapyard.” There were a number of issues with the second movie — it wasn’t a racing film anymore, per se, but a story of espionage, and it didn’t focus on Lightning McQueen — but it was still a Pixar joint. As bad as it was, it seemed unlikely that Cars 3 wouldn’t at least reference its predecessor.
Except that’s exactly what happened. Cars 3 picks up basically where Cars ended, with no mention of the experiences that McQueen, his best friend Mater and the rest of the Radiator Springs crew shared when they left America and traveled to Japan and Europe. When Mater is introduced in Cars 3, he seems a little more mature, but there’s no hint at the second installment in the Cars franchise that led to this moment, or the heroic act he performed that changed his relationship with McQueen forever. A relationship, it should be added, that is core to the Cars 3 story.
The intent is obvious: Pixar would like its audience to forget that Cars 2 even exists. Cars 3 doesn’t need Cars 2 to survive; unlike with most franchises, as long as people have only seen the first Cars, they can head into the third without missing a beat. Pixar is clearly trying to clean its slate and return the Cars franchise to its previous glory.
To make that point even more painstakingly clear, Pixar released a new video yesterday in the style of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, which takes a look at a specific athlete or sporting event in great detail. The Cars 3 version is all about Lightning McQueen: the struggles he had as a rookie racer in 2006 (the year the first movie came out), his slow build to being one of the best racers in the world, and his upcoming rivalry with Jackson Storm. Storm is the newest racer to challenge McQueen on the track; he’s faster, more technologically advanced and a punk. He’s everything McQueen hates, and that’s hinted at in the 30 for 30 video. The focus jumps immediately from Cars to Cars 3.
The “mini documentary” is only a couple of minutes long, but at no time does it mention the World Grand Prix race in Tokyo from Cars 2. Although McQueen famously lost the first race because of bad advice Mater gave him — which led to their big fight and the main obstacle to overcome in the film — he was a four-time Piston Cup winner by that point.
It had been five years since we last saw McQueen in Cars; in that time, he had grown into one of the most respected racers in the world. But this clip doesn’t mention that. Cars 3 doesn’t either, really, but it does focus on McQueen getting older, and it highlights the many accolades he’s collected over the past decade. McQueen just appears as the best racer in the third movie, without the film ever addressing how this could have happened in the 11 years since Cars.
But everything that happened overseas in Cars 2 — including Mater receiving an honorary knighthood in London for his “spy” work — is completely ignored. It’s not like it wasn’t a big part of McQueen’s life; it was. But if Pixar were to bring up what happened, well, it would have to admit that Cars 2 existed — and it’s clear that’s not what the studio wants to do.
So we jump from Cars to Cars 3, leaving Cars 2 to be the disappointing middle child that never lived up to the potential set up by its older sibling. The thing is, though, that Pixar can’t erase Cars 2, and it should just embrace the misstep. All studios have stinkers and, while 2011’s Cars 2 was a low point for the studio, Cars 3 slightly redeems the franchise. It’s not a perfect movie, as we said in our review, but it is entertaining.
For now, it’s time to pour one out for Cars 2, the movie that Pixar wished never was.
Cars 3 is currently playing in theaters.