REVIEW BY OISÍN WALSH
When you’re performing poorly and you’re no longer at the top of your game should you give up and cash in on your legacy effectively living off easy money or should you persevere and fight to stay in the game? That’s the question that Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is forced to face in Pixar’s latest outing: Cars 3. In the original film 11 years ago, he was an ambitious young rookie racer but now he has become a veteran of the racetrack competing against cars much younger than him. As always Pixar delivers with beautiful animation but the narratives Pixar were once acclaimed for are, like McQueen, beginning to lose their edge.
I never finished watching Cars 2, and it’s probably a statement to how a poor a sequel it was that Cars 3 could quite easily have been the sequel to the first film as there seemed to be no reference to the events in the previous film. McQueen becomes surrounded by new high-tech racers many of whom are replacing his fellow veterans. Leading the pack of new competitors is Jackson Storm, voiced by Armie Hammer. McQueen begins a new training regime led by nervous but enthusiastic Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo) in an attempt to compete in this new age of racing.
Hype for a more mature Cars film was generated months ago when a short teaser was released which implied that McQueen would suffer a dramatic car crash with the tagline “From this moment, everything will change”. The film delivers in part on this promise; Pixar still manages to create a poignant and mature story, a story of accepting and adapting to change but the film is often ridiculous. The greatest parts are when we see how McQueen struggles with his desire to race and do his mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by the legendary Paul Newman) proud. However, the film often diverts attention from this storyline for silly gags based around how McQueen is out of touch with new trends and becoming older. This dynamic creates a balance between a narrative that can keep the older audience engaged while remaining entertaining for younger audiences who will likely be unable to grasp the deeper meaning behind the film’s plot. Pixar accomplished this with great success in the past, producing profound stories told in a comical way that can be appreciated by all audiences; Cars 3 is working off the old Pixar formula but it produces a weaker result.
At the end of the day, Pixar’s animation is still dazzling from the cascade of colour that the audience is subjected to during the many racing scenes which contrast the tranquillity of the gorgeous American landscape. At once it is a nod to the franchise’s roots and also a demonstration of how far the quality of animation has come in 11 years. It’s also nice to be reminded that while the storytellers’ ability may be waning, the animators’ clearly is not.
As Pixar is scheduled to have two more sequels be released in the next few years (The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4), I can’t shake the feeling that Cars 3 is a parable directed inwards back at Pixar, that they should not cash in on their success under the pressure of growing competition with the success of Disney films like Frozen and Big Hero 6 or even more obscure films like Kubo and The Two Strings. That instead of surrendering their talents and cashing in on their old triumphs, they should adapt their skills and fight to be back on top again. I would like to think they will heed their own lesson and I have high hopes that Coco, an original film from the studio which is due to be released in November later this year will be a return to form for Pixar because Cars 3 while enjoyable and, at times, quite poignant fails to recapture the charm of the studio’s early successes.