Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cars 3

We're Pixar fans and have never missed a Pixar film in theaters, so over the weekend we saw Cars 3. I like the original Cars well enough, though it's near the bottom of the great Pixar lineup, but Cars 2, focusing on Mater as a "man who knew too much" unintentional spy, was pretty terrible. From the trailers, it looked like Cars 3 would have a different tone from the first two, so I was interested.

Turns out, it did have a different tone than the first two. The plot takes the Cars story an unknown number of years beyond the first two films, with Lightning McQueen now the venerable racing champ, being unexpectedly supplanted by younger, faster new cars. McQueen coming to terms with his age and limitations after a terrible crash, takes him to new sponsors and trainers, and one last race to prove that he's still a champ. Basically, this is a Rocky story.

The Cars franchise has always been Pixar's most child-friendly property, but about halfway through the movie I realized that there wasn't nearly the usual amount of silliness or a great deal of humor. The story was definitely more serious than the previous films and the subject matter more geared towards adults. The original kid-friendly characters, including Mater, are absent for long chunks of the story as McQueen trains for his big race.  I found myself wondering if the story would even work for kids.

(Now, I don't want to give the wrong impression. There is a good amount of humor and silliness, but the balance is not the same as in the previous films.)

You may remember that in the original film, Paul Newman voiced McQueen's foil, then mentor, Doc Hudson. Newman died before the second film was completed, so he doesn't appear in Cars 2 other than a quick mention. In this new film, Doc Hudson and his relationship to Lightning McQueen are a major part of the story with a number of flashbacks and dream conversations between the two. They apparently had some unused audio from Newman, because he's credited as voicing Doc Hudson. I found those scenes very effective and even touching.

So was it any good? I have to admit that I enjoyed it. It's certainly better than the second one and only another viewing will tell me whether it holds up better than the first one. I hope it's the end of the Cars movies, as the trilogy tells a complete story and doesn't need any followup. But hey, they're doing Toy Story 4, so there's no hope they'll stop now.

Two more quick points.

Lots of people complained about Cars because it steals the plot from Doc Hollywood and I've heard the same complaints about this movie and its similarity to the Rocky sequels. I won't deny that the plots are very similar. But you know what? Stories are more often than not based on previous stories and since these are kids movies, I think that matters very little here. How many kids will have seen Doc Hollywood or the Rocky movies?

And finally, after the first Cars, the rundown, forgotten town on Route 66 where the story takes place experiences a renaissance due to McQueen's fame. That renaissance is still in full view at the beginning and end of the second movie. But in this movie, Radiator Springs seems once again to have become tattered and forgotten. Was this an oversight, or were the filmmakers making a specific point about the fleeting nature of fame by condemning the town to obscurity once again? In either case, I found it a little sad.

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