Movie Review - Cars 3

Theatrically, this movie came out before Pixar's Coco, but had I seen this movie first I probably wouldn't have noticed the reference to Coco here. Yes, Coco is about human beings and this movie is about anthropomorphized automobiles, but a character here claims to know or be from the same village that is the primary location in Coco, that of Santa Cecilia. One's head might hurt if one tries to consider how these two movies could exist in the same universe. Clearly, it's just an Easter egg, a nod that is meant to be cute and not substantial. It should also be noted that of the nearly 20 films produced by Pixar, Toy Story is the only other franchise to get a third film. It might be unfair to compare this movie to Toy Story 3 but Pixar only invites it because it's this one that it decided to put a 3 toward.

This movie, presumably as the two previous, is meant to appeal to NASCAR fans or anyone in general who likes sports films, as this movie hits a lot of the same beats as a Rocky sequel. Instead of boxing, the sport in question just happens to be car racing. The Rocky Balboa of this movie is a talking car named Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums and Midnight in Paris). Like Rocky, Lightning is a little too old for the sport. He's not as fast or as agile on the track, so there's the issue if he should retire, even though the sport is his whole world and he doesn't know what he would do if he retired.

There have been several films about retired or aging athletes. Outside of the Rocky films, most are about the aging athlete hanging on to compete one more time to prove some kind of masculinity or the idea perhaps of mind-over-matter, instead of accepting that the human body eventually wears out and shuts down. Here, the metaphor works, even though logically or in real life, an automobile doesn't quite age the same way or at least an automobile can be maintained, refurbished or even rebuilt to last longer than the lives of athletes.

The reason a lot of athletes retire is not just because of age but also due to injury. Again, the living cars here can be hurt, damaged or die, but they presumably can be refurbished in ways that humans can't, so when it comes to that aspect, suspension of disbelief has to come into play. Directed by Brian Fee, a Pixar storyboard artist making his directorial debut, this movie is more about passing the baton to someone else and not being the guy in the spotlight, even for one more time.

Unfortunately, this movie doesn't do the character development that Toy Story 3 does, so that by the end we really feel for those involved. Maybe, it's because the stakes aren't that high. Toy Story 3 took the stakes to the level of life-and-death, as well as the end of relationships forever. This movie doesn't rise to that level. In a few films about aging athletes, what's at stake is financial livelihood, but that's not the case here either. Lightning will be fine financially. The only thing at stake for him is his pride.

Yet, his pride just doesn't seem to be enough, which is why the passing of the torch is so welcome. The movie sets up a red herring of who the torch recipient is. Pixar should get kudos for making that recipient not conform to gender or racial stereotypes that one might expect for the typical NASCAR racer. The movie could have dug more into that non-conformity. It instead skirts over it.

As usual, the animation is really detailed and impressive. Everything in this movie has a tactile look and feel to it. The sound design is very much on point. Yes, we're looking at automobiles with mouths and eyes, but every other aspect has a photo-realistic  or audio-realistic quality.

Rated G for all audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.

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