The Cars franchise has always been Pixar’s weakest series, and it’s debatable how much it even needed a third instalment (or after the cynical cash grab of Cars 2, deserved one). However, whether we wanted one or not here it is. Thankfully, the story has wisely ditched the espionage nonsense of the sequel – not even referencing its events so everyone can pretend it never happened – and takes the film back to its racing roots.
Time has gone by and Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has gotten old, and now faces fresh competition from a new generation of technologically advanced vehicles with inherent advantages over older models, in particular obnoxious champion Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Incidentally, exactly where this new technology is developed or how it is implemented is another aspect of how we are required to ignore just how much the structure of Cars’ self-contained world makes absolutely no logical sense (our favourite theory is that the sentient cars rose up to overthrow and obliterate humanity in a great and terrible war, and the structures in the films that it’s physically impossible for vehicles to have constructed are the crumbling remnants of the once proud human race… but we digress).
After his sponsors sell their company to business magnate Sterling (a magnificently smarmy Nathan Fillion), Lightning is required to become more of a corporate mascot, but is still determined to prove himself worthy as a racer, so begins a fitness regime with upbeat young trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to win back respect from others and himself by defeating his new rivals.
The setup is one familiar to any fan of sports films, that of the old champion struggling to find his place in a new world that has passed him by, everything that was once familiar having gradually eroded and only now that he has become obsolete does he even realise any change was underway. Like the first film, there is a meditation on the wisdom that comes with age, but even though Lightning is getting older he is evidently still to reach the point where this growth occurs, as he is just as reckless, impulsive and thoughtless as he ever was. Dissatisfied with Cruz’s training methods he decides to do things his own way, and then when unforeseen problems compound upon each other he gets angry with her for all the time wasted, despite the detours being things he decided he wanted to do, blaming her because she was there and got in the way.
Lightning eventually learns exactly the same lessons he did in the first film, that his arrogance is his own greatest weakness and that he needs to appreciate everyone who stands by him. As the film progresses he comes to understand that there are other achievements in life than simply winning. It ultimately boils down to Lightning realising that his legacy is not the number of victories he has or how long he can maintain them for, but is instead how much he acts as an inspiration to those around him and so their accomplishments become a reflection on himself as a mentor. Through the limited character development of Cruz there’s also a message chucked in about how girls should feel they have the right to do all the things they want to, even if the undertaking is traditionally male or perceived as being not feminine enough for them, but it’s poorly presented and more of an afterthought than an actual plot line.
Cars 3 is a jumble of ideas that never settles on any particular one, and as a result feels like a half-hearted effort from the typically reliable Pixar. In all honesty, you’re likely to get just as much out of the film as you’re expecting to. If you thought the previous films were entertaining and harmless fun then you’ll think this one is much the same. If you feel the series is a notable low point indicative of a typically inventive studio coasting along on its previous successes, then you’ll find it mildly distracting, but ultimately nothing special.
CARS 3 / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: BRIAN FEE / SCREENPLAY: KIEL MURRAY, BOB PETERSON, MIKE RICH, BRIAN FEE, BEN QUEEN, EYAL PODELL JONATHON E STEWART / STARRING: OWEN WILSON, CRISTELA ALONZO, NATHAN FILLION, LARRY THE CABLE GUY, ARMIE HAMMER, CHRIS COOPER / RELEASE DATE: 14TH JULY
Expected Rating: 7/10