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?
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?!
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, 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?
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? 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. As this one does too.