We’re now very close to the end of my Pixar blogathon, for now. One more movie after this and I will have covered every Pixar feature released to date. Because the next movie, Incredibles 2, is releasing this June, I may save my list of all the Pixar movies in my personal preference until after that comes out. But before we get to that, or Coco (which releases on DVD and Blu-ray on the 27th), it’s time to talk about Cars 3. And I must say, this movie surprised me.
Pre-production work on Cars 3 began shortly after Cars 2 released in 2011, although Pixar didn’t announce the third movie in the franchise until 2014. There isn’t too much information on the actual production of the movie that I could find. In fact the only information I could find is that John Lasseter (who didn’t direct Cars 3 like he did the first two), said that the film would feature a tribute to Hayao Miyazaki’s film, The Castle of Caglistro, in the form of a car. He also talked about how the film had a very emotional story, similar to the first film. They intended it as a return to the series routes, after Cars 2 turned into a bizarre spy thriller.
Co-writer Wiel Murrey, who also co-wrote Cars, said, “With these franchises you always want to know who it’s about. The first movie was about McQueen, and the second movie was a sort-of off-ramp to the Mater story. We wanted to get back to the McQueen story. When we looked at what would be next for him, we wondered what that would be like both as an athlete, and also for what he was dealing with in the rest of his life.”
Randy Newman composed the film’s soundtrack, as he has for many Pixar movies in the past. Disney ended up releasing two soundtracks for the movie, one featuring Newman’s original score, and another featuring rock/pop songs featured in the movie. And Brian Fee made his lead directorial debut for this movie, having previously worked as a storyboard artist and animator. His credits include the first two Cars movies, WALL-E, Monsters University, Inside Out, and an animator for a number of straight to video sequels for both Disney and Dreamworks.
Cars 3 released in June of 2017 to moderately positive critical reception. It earned a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 6.1/10. The Rolling Stone gave it a positive review, saying “There’s an emotional resonance to this story about growing old, chasing glory days and the joy of passing the baton that leaves the other two films choking on its digitally rendered dust.” Uproxx’s review called Cars 3 “The Rocky III of the Cars franchise,” and wrote, “There’s a hint of sadness that seems to be present throughout Cars 3 that gives it a little more weight than the previous installments.” Other reviews considered it alright, but that it kind of felt like a straight to DVD sequel that just looked like a theatrical release.
Cars 3 is also the least profitable movie in the franchise. While Cars earned $462 million and Cars 2 earned $562 million, Cars 3 only earned $383 million on a $175 million budget. It was profitable, but not by a huge margin. Because the awards season isn’t over with yet, we don’t yet know how many awards Cars 3 will earn if any, but it does have some nominations with their winners pending. That includes three Visual Effects Society nominations, a Cinema Audio Society Awards nomination and a Satellite Awards nomination.
I’ve made it no secret that I’m not a fan of the Cars franchise. I liked Cars 1 well enough (notably more this time round than the first time I watched it 11 years ago), but Cars 2 is the closest I’ve been to disliking a Pixar movie. Seeing how this movie didn’t get spectacular reviews, and it’s the least profitable of the franchise, I wasn’t really looking forward to this. Yet Cars 3 surprised me, in the good way.
I actually liked this movie a fair bit. The core story is that Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), is a racing legend with 7 Piston Cup wins behind him, along with his international racing career touched on in Cars 2. Yet in this new season of racing, he’s getting passed by new, high tech cars. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t keep up with him. Other cars of his generation are retiring at a rapid rate. And like Doc Hudson, on the race where he tries to win his last piston cup, he loses control and crashes.
His failure briefly depresses him, but McQueen is determined to compete for at least one more season. With a new sponsor behind him (having bought out his old sponsor, Rusteze), he’s got access to high tech equipment. He’s also got a new coach. Yet he’s resistant to his young trainer’s methods. He tries training his own way, but he ends up spending more time teaching his trainer how to race than he does improving.
I won’t say anything else about the plot specifically, but it’s worth talking about Cars 3’s themes. Like the Rolling Stones review said, it’s a story about growing old and learning to pass the baton to the younger generation. It’s about passing on what you’ve learned, the same way McQueen benefited from Doc Hudson in the first Cars movie. There are a lot of themes about legacy. There’s the idea that one can potentially tarnish ones legacy, but in reality it’s for a brief time. Unless you ruin your reputation with bad behavior, eventually people will only remember what you’ve accomplished and they’ll forget about your failures. For example, few remember how Muhammad Ali lost his career last fight.
The themes in this movie are very relevant to real life. I’m not old yet, but as someone who recently got back into swimming, I can’t help but wonder if I could have taken it somewhere if I tried harder as a kid. If I stuck with it for longer. After all, just over a year after getting back into swimming, I’m already finishing 400m individual medleys. It’s also a great look into how athletes must feel when they’re getting too old to compete. Living legends like Wayne Gretzky (hockey), Michael Phelps (swimming), and of course Usain Bolt (running) have all gone, or are going through this.
Many have tried to relive their glory days to varying levels of success. For example, hockey legend Gordie Howe came back into hockey with his sons after a brief retirement, and despite how he couldn’t keep up with anyone, he made up for that with brilliant placing and still scored NHL goals into his 70s. He’s the only person who’s played professional hockey in 5 different decades – nobody else is even close. Michael Phelps briefly retired from swimming after London 2012, but came back for Rio and in a way, put in his most impressive performance. At 31, he not only swam his career fastest split in the 4x100m freestyle relay, but he almost beat his Olympic Record in the 200m individual medley (which was the world record at the time). Others pass the torch instead, like how Wayne Gretzky helped build Canada’s Olympic gold medal winning hockey team in 2002, and that he’s one of the Edmonton Oilers’ owners and he’s their current vice-chairman.
This movie touches on both of these paths very well. There’s a sense of sadness in the movie’s themes, but by the end, McQueen finds his happy ending. He does return to racing, but he uses that to help a younger car truly reach their potential. It’s a very dramatic story, but there’s still a fair amount of entertainment value. the movie also touches on Doc Hudson’s death both more and better than Cars 2 did, looking at his legacy from multiple angles.
Cars 3 isn’t only my favourite movie of the three by a significant margin, but I think it’s made me appreciate the first Cars movie more as well. I’m still not a fan of Cars 2, although this movie almost completely ignores its existence. Owen Wilson does a great job with voicing McQueen and exploring his dilemma, Cristela Alonzo expertly portrays McQueen’s young coach with her own ambitions and insecurities, and Armie Hammer is great as McQueen’s young, high-tech rival on the track. He’s got just the right balance between being likeable and obnoxiously arrogant.
With Cars 3 out of the way, it’ll be several weeks before I get to the most recently released Pixar movie. It’s not in theaters around here anymore, so I’ll need to wait a bit. Until then, I’ll be working on editing a book and beta reading a fellow writer’s book as part of a writer’s circle.
Cars is still my favorite of the three movies, but Cars 3 was a good addition to the franchise. Lightning is one of my favorite animated characters, so I appreciated the fact that the focus was back on him instead of Mater. And I really do love the themes and how Lightning’s character arc has come full circle.
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