Monday, July 3, 2017

Cars 3

When it comes Pixar films, there's a certain expectation of the highest standards of quality storytelling. The best of Pixar is on par with the best live action Oscar contenders. 

The exception to that expectation is the Cars franchise. The original Cars is... okay. It's not a bad movie. In many ways, it achieves moments of emotional power. Like the scene where the residents of Radiator Springs get the sad, forgotten town gussied up with neon lights and music as the freshly polished cars cruise the main street is particularly resonant with me. But Cars is saddled with a particularly unlikable protagonist in Lightning McQueen who takes way too long to find his redemption. And don't get me started on exactly how this world populated by sentient automobiles is supposed to work. 

But Cars made a lot of movie beyond the box office. In terms of merchandising, Cars is Pixar's most successful film. Cars 2 was greenlit but to fans of Pixar, it seemed like more of a marketing push to sell more Lightning McQueen toys, clothing and accessories.  And when Cars 2 actually arrived, it was Pixar's worst reviewed film ever. 

In fairness, I have not actually seen Cars 2 but my daughter Randie has and she concurs that it is as bad as I think it is with a silly contrived spy plot and way too much Mater in it. 

So there was not a lot of enthusiasm for Cars 3 around the ol' Fortress of Ineptitude. But something about this one seemed different. The early teaser for the film, a silent, slow motion scene of a bashed up Lightning McQueen hurtling through the air, sent a message, that Pixar had taken to heart the lessons of Cars 2. 

So we went out to see Cars 3 this weekend. And the verdict? It's on par with the original Cars. In fact Cars 3 revisits the themes of the first film but from a different perspective. Before, McQueen is a young, brash upstart rookie with considerable speed and the ego to match but sorely lacking in wisdom.  In Cars 3, McQueen is a seasoned veteran, still very fast. But there's a newcomer in the field who's faster, Jackson Storm. 

Storm is the future of racing with modern enhancements that make him faster than all other cars. Like McQueen in the first Cars, Storm is also young and brash with an ego to match his speed. Against the dominant Storm, McQueen enters a losing streak as his old competitors fall away to be replaced by new racers using Storm's high tech improvements. McQueen finds himself as a lonely representative of the old guard, heading towards obsolescence and the end of his career.  but McQueen is determined his racing career ends when he says it ends. So McQueen's path crosses that of Cruz Ramirez, a yellow sports car, trainer. But Cruz has some out-there ideas about what constitutes training; her ideas are counter to what Lightning McQueen thinks he needs to be doing to be a better, faster racer. 

What makes Cars 3 work is the secret of the best Pixar films, it's about more than just the flash and color we see on the screen. Yes, the kids will be entertained but grown ups will recognize the deeper messages, of learning to cope with aging and change.  

Mortality is a constant presence for McQueen. He's coping with the loss of his mentor and crew chief, Doc Hudson. His accident has echoes of the one that ended Hudson's racing career. McQueen is confronted by the reality that he can't keep racing forever but nothing else except racing has any meaning for him.  

Cars 3 works because what drives (pun not intended but... hay, that's rather clever) the story is the journey of the characters, of McQueen coming to terms with his aging and looking out for new directions in his life. And Cruz comes to grip with her deferred dreams to be a racer herself. McQueen's journey is matched by Cruz's development, her growing realization that she is better than she knew and there's more to her than the role she has a trainer. And Lightning finds inspiration in Doc Hudson when he learns that even after his racing days were done, Doc's proudest achievement was mentoring Lightning McQueen.  

All this seems like deep, heady stuff for a Cars movie but deep down, the best of Pixar is the deep, heady stuff that rests at the core of their movies. Cars 3 succeeds where Cars 2 did not because Cars 3 aspires to be about something more than the color and flash on the screen.  

I still have questions about how the Cars world works. For example, Cruz says she grew up watching McQueen race. How does a car "grow up"? Cruz has parents. Parents? How does that work? There's a school bus. Why? Who is the bus taking to school? There are crabs on the beach which appears to be the only organic creature in the Cars world? It makes my head spin trying to make senses of it all. Then Randie jumps trying to tie the Cars movies into the larger unified Pixar theory and my head explodes.  

All in all, Cars 3 works, building on the themes of the first movie. Not a Pixar classic but the Cars franchise does effectively redeem itself.    
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We actually saw another "three-quel" animated movie this weekend. More about Despicable M3 later this week. 

And a write up on the Doctor Who season finale will also be on it's way this week.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 



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