Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Cars 3 - Movie Review

Cars was a very mediocre entry into Pixar’s sterling canon of films back in 2006. It wasn’t bad by any means but it was incredibly uninspired in comparison to the other films made by the studio – the plot boils down to Doc Hollywood with talking cars and the universe wasn’t really inventive enough to sustain the predictable storyline of arrogant racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) learning to be more humble after he becomes stranded in the forgotten town of Radiator Springs. But the first Cars looked like Finding Nemo or Toy Story in comparison to Cars 2, where the series made a tone-deaf shift into becoming a spy movie (complete with endless explosions, gunfire, car torture and even vehicles dying – you know, for kids!) and pushed annoying comic relief character Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) into the main character status, which made the film an absolute chore to sit through. Rightfully it’s the lowest rated Pixar film critically and it didn’t make a huge amount of money relative to Pixar’s standards. So why a third film? Because the merchandise has sold like absolute hotcakes; thanks to the scope for endless toys, including repaints of classic characters, the Cars franchise has grossed over $10 billion in merchandising, a level on par with Star Wars.

This made the prospect of a third Cars film a depressing thought, another film created solely to cash in on merchandise (and given the film’s mediocre box office gross I would say that’s the case); people did get hooked though by the surprisingly dark teaser trailer featuring Lightning crashing in a realistic manner and got people wondering if this franchise was about to grow up. Age is indeed a primary role of the storyline for this film as Lightning McQueen finds himself getting usurped by younger and more hi-tech cars, led by the arrogant Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), which concludes in the aforementioned crash. Dejected but not beaten, McQueen decides to push himself even harder and, led by trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), preps himself up for the comeback of the century.

From the plot synopsis you can tell that this is going to be a very predictable underdog tale – the hero gets destroyed early on, trains super hard and pushes himself on forward to win the big title at the end. No real major shifts in that formula, which is accentuated by the subplot of the person who never made it at the big leagues wanting to get a chance to do it – guess what happens at the end of the film? It should be noted that when these two plot strands collide it leads to one of the most questionable parts of the film and ends up feeling quite forced. But aside from that Cars 3 uses its predictable plot in a fairly good way; it’s nothing to really write home about but it’s a competent use of the formula. The film also uses its themes of growing old and accepting when it’s time to throw in the towel pretty well; Lightning develops as a character very well throughout the film, learning to build himself up and connect back to his past with his former mentor Doc Hudson (archive footage used from the late Paul Newman). Likewise Ramirez manages to be a fun and likeable presence in spite of her predictable storyline and the two characters complement each other rather nicely. Most of the other characters are a little on the bland side, especially Jackson Storm who feels like a total non-presence in spite of the fact that he’s ostensibly the main antagonist. In a spot of good news though Mater’s screentime has been drastically reduced from Cars 2 and though he’s a little annoying he doesn’t become insufferable in this instalment.

What really pulls this film up is the absolutely stellar animation. It’s a Pixar film so that ought to be expected but even still Cars 3 feels like a step up from the previous films in this regard. Everything just looks absolutely beautiful, especially the designs of the environments which are so convincingly animated that you’ll be convinced that it was live action. Additionally the race scenes are all intense and action-packed, with particular mention going to a demolition derby, which is easily the most fun scene of the film with its wild unpredictability, and McQueen’s crash which is disturbingly realistic and still has a great amount of emotional impact in spite of it being used as the focal point in the film’s marketing.

Cars 3 will never take the prize of being Pixar’s best film and doesn’t crack the company’s top ten for sure. The plot’s predictable, a lot of the side characters are unmemorable and there are a number of moments where you can tell that a toy opportunity came knocking for the creators and they couldn’t resist the easy payday. But at the same time it is a ridiculously big step up over Cars 2 and is perhaps a little better than the first Cars as it does manage to deliver the most emotional weight of the franchise and has the best animation by far. Whilst it may be a completely unnecessary film it’s still a decent addition to the series.

Cars 3 – directed by Brian Fee, screenplay by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich, story by Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell and Jonathan E. Stewart, produced by Kevin Raher, with the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Nathan Fillion, Lea DeLaria and Kerry Washington. A Pixar production, a Disney film

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