I think my favorite thing about the third movie in the "Cars" franchise isn't the story, characters or animation, but the fact that it doesn't acknowledge the direly terrible second movie at all. I'm a diehard Pixar fanatic (does that make me a "Pixiehead?"), so I'll go see their latest offering no matter what, but the "Cars" movies are definitely my least favorite pocket of their universe.
There's a beautiful beating heart to all of Pixar's movies. Whether it's the bittersweet notes of growing up in the "Toy Story" movies, the push to follow your passion in "Ratatouille" or the grief-stricken longing of "Up," Pixar makes films that children can love and can also move the adults. If the first "Cars" movie is about the dangers of hubris and the second is about accepting your limitations, the third one focuses on not giving up on ourselves.
The problem is that all of these thematic concerns play themselves out on the surface, without giving the adults much to latch onto. Personally, I think what's more interesting about the "Cars" movies is the universe they take place in and the questions they raise, such as: What happened to all the people? If there are no people then why do all the cars have door handles? Did humanity evolve into the cars or did the cars eat all the people and become anthropomorphized because of all the human meat in their bellies? Are the cars born or do they get made? Am I thinking too much about these children's films or is something more sinister going on and the "Cars" series are actually horror movies?
If I was involved in the generic characters or simple storyline, I wouldn't be trying to come up with answers to all these questions (here's another: If one of the vehicles is born, say, a racecar, does that mean they have to be a racecar or could they later decide to become an ambulance or an ice cream truck?).
"Cars 3" is definitely better than the second one since it recaptures a bit of the missing heart of that film, but also because it focuses much less on Mater, the redneck tow truck played by Dan Whitney, AKA the white bread comedian playing the character of Larry the Cable Guy. Mater is a franchise killer (as he almost proved with the second movie), so this one wisely keeps him sidelined for most of the runtime. Like nails on a chalkboard, that guy.
Pixar can do better than this with their sequels. "Toy Story 3," "Monsters University" and "Finding Dory" all proved these properties can be mined for new story ideas. Yet for some reason, the "Cars" franchise feels like the first truly cynical output from Pixar, where the creators have always seemed to be more interested in telling good stories than selling merchandise. Your kids might see this and want a Lightning McQueen lunchbox, but I just want my sense of wonder back—and maybe to fight Randy Newman.
Dir. Brian Fee
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX. Redmond Cinema