your £$ support needed

part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Cars 3 movie review: road to nowhere

Cars 3 red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Three movies in, and this world of sentient driverless cars still creeps me out, and still does nothing except advertise a mountain of related merch for kids.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of this franchise
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

So, hotshot sentient driverless race car — dammit, three movies in, and that’s still creepy — Lightning McQueen has hit middle age. He’s not as fast as he used to be. The youngsters are nipping at his heels… tires… whatever… and lapping him on the track. What’s an automobile dude to do?

I have many questions about the scenario of Cars 3.tweet

But… wait… Who designed and built the sleek new supercharged race cars nipping at Lighting McQueen’s heels?

Where are these vehicular youngsters coming from? Jackson Storm (the voice of Armie Hammer: Free Fire, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) is sleeker of chassis and more supercharged of engine than Lightning (the voice of Owen Wilson: Zoolander 2, No Escape)… but… like… I mean… how does Jackson Storm exist at all? Who is designing and building new race cars? Do the cars of this bizarre world somehow give birth, and even if they do, how do the car-people take such leaps of pseudobiological evolution in a single generation? Is this somehow related to the notion here — seemingly accepted as fact by everyone — that “working out” can increase a car’s speed and, I dunno, “endurance”? In an attempt to fight back against the likes of Jackson Storm, Lightning starts working with trainer Cruz Ramirez (the voice of Cristela Alonzo), who puts her clients through paces that look very much like what a human trainer would do with human clients, but if you want to increase the efficiency and power of an automobile, don’t you have to, you know, replace parts and components, not merely work out the existing ones? I mean, mechanical devices do not have a way to self-maintain the way that biological creatures do (as long as you input food and water and air and sleep, output exercise, etc): someone external has to perform maintenance on a mechanical device, cleaning out gunk and oiling bits and pieces and swapping out worn stuff for new stuff, right? Right?!

Why is there a school bus? Who rides the human-scaled school bus? *sob*

Why is there a school bus? Who rides the human-scaled school bus? *sob*tweet


I know. I know! I’m “overthinking” it. I’ve been overthinking the frankly haunting universe of these movies for more than a decade now,tweet since the first Cars was released, and I’m still hugely disturbed by it. Never mind a lack of opposable thumbs: how do the cars actually do anything without any sort of limbs and hands for grasping? How did they build the racing stadiums we see here that are scaled for car audiences (so they clearly cannot be leftover remnants of human civilization)? How did Lightning thread the celluloid into the film projector for the scene here in which he watches an old newsreel? On a wider scale, that newsreel! It’s part of Lightning’s reminiscences about his former mentor, Doc Hudson (the voice of Paul Newman [Road to Perdition, Where the Money Is], pulled from recordings made during the production of the first film), which contain specific references — visually, not in dialogue — to the 1950s and 1980s… so does that mean that we can now conclusively say that all of this is taking place not in some horrific dystopian future in which the cars attained sentience, rose up, and slew the humans, but in an alt-universe somehow running concurrently alongside our own? Or perhaps it’s all a fever dream Henry Ford is having during a nap on some hot summer’s day in 1909?

Perhaps the bizarre Cars universe is nothing but a fever dream Henry Ford is having on a hot summer’s day in 1909…

But as with all the Cars movies, if you don’t overthink it, there’s nothing to think about at all in Cars 3. The very familiar story about finding new purpose at midlife by rethinking your priorities — as Lightning eventually does — could not be more bland and banal… though perhaps there is some appropriate-level thinking to be done regarding this: Who thought it was a good idea to tell a story about middle-aged existential despair in a one-joke goofball animated world that appeals only to little kids?tweet I’m gonna go ahead and presume that this is down to writer (one of seven credited) and director Brian Fee, a Pixar animator making his debut in both roles. But Pixar has a pretty good record of telling stories with universal appeal, stories that work on multiple levels to amuse and provoke all ages. They’ve just never bothered to even try that with the Cars movies, which have only ever come across as cheap, manipulative commercials for the inevitable mountain of related toys and other kiddie merch.tweet As this one does too.

see also:
Cars (review)
Cars 2 (review)

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

red light 2 stars

Please support truly independent film criticism
as generously as you can.
support my work at PayPal support my work at Patreon support my work at Ko-Fi support my work at Liberapay More details...

Cars 3 (2017) | directed by Brian Fee
US/Can release: Jun 16 2017
UK/Ire release: Jul 14 2017

MPAA: rated G
BBFC: rated U (very mild threat, language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Danielm80

    This review happened to show up while I was reading the new book in the Rook Files series by Daniel O’Malley:


    It features a group called the Grafters, who surgically modify their bodies to extend their lives and give themselves extraordinary abilities.
    If Daniel O’Malley wrote the novelization of Cars 3, I’m sure he could make sense out of the story. And it would be less disturbing than the actual movie.

  • Bluejay

    I’ve been overthinking the frankly haunting universe of these movies for more than a decade now

    Have you seen this rabbit hole of a video? It’s a fascinating (if annoyingly narrated) theory.


    TL;DW: The cars in Cars aren’t cars at all – they’re highly evolved insects.

  • Jurgan

    Like Cybermen?

  • Danielm80

    The Cybermen ripped off the idea from the Tin Woodsman.

  • Jurgan

    And that was probably inspired by something else as well. Everything is a product of its environment. As Carl Sagan put it, if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe.

  • Danielm80

    The Grafters are nothing like the Cybermen, who are nothing like the Tin Woodsman. The characters in the book are more like the U-Men from Grant Morrison’s X-Men comics.

    And now that I’ve eliminated any trace of humor left in the original joke, I’ll leave this topic alone.

  • Jurgan

    Maybe I missed that you were making a joke. A lot of people assume “X is like Y” is a criticism, but there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the newer one has a new way to look at it.

  • RogerBW

    Of course you don’t see the human servitor class in the film. Why would anyone be interested in watching them?

  • Danielm80

    Oh dear. Now I’m picturing Sofia Coppola’s Cars.

  • Jacob S

    “Three movies in, and this world of sentient driverless cars still creeps me out, and still does nothing except advertise a mountain of related merch for kids.”

    Yet you give Star Wars: The last jedi a good review because you are a “star wars” fan, Star Wars is probably one of the biggest franchises to be made to sell merch, especially the Disney star wars films.

  • Danielm80

    She wrote that Cars 3 “does nothing except advertise.” She spent her entire review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi talking about the things it does well. You may not agree, but she’s supported her opinion with example after example of why she found the film intelligent and moving. If you want to argue that she’s a brainless fangirl, you have to ignore pretty much everything she wrote, which is…well…brainless.

  • Bluejay

    Because, in her view, the Cars franchise does NOTHING except sell merch. In her view (and mine), Star Wars ALSO tells interesting stories with relatable characters, so it does MORE than just sell merch. You may feel differently, but that doesn’t make her a hypocrite.


  • Danielm80

    Odd. The troll’s comment has vanished. I doubt MaryAnn deleted it, so either he self-deleted or I’ve totally misunderstood the Rapture.

  • Bluejay

    So, an asshole AND a coward. Typical.

  • I did not delete it. There was nothing there that made it worthy of deleting. Laughing at, sure. But not deleting.

Pin It on Pinterest