After a lacklustre response to ‘Cars 2’ which, in its defence, had some fresh ideas and a fast-paced plot, Pixar returns to the narrative of their original story for the third and possibly final (only if the cash doesn’t flow) chapter of the Lightning McQueen story. After some of the most dramatic marketing for a Pixar film in the guise of teasers and posters for the story that “will never be the same again”…. it pretty much IS the same and I am so frustrated by it.
When the marketing effort is more exciting and dramatic than the film itself, you know you’ve been sucker-punched into thinking this was something major. It’s not. The “money shot” of the trailers is out the way in the first 10mins, leaving the other 70 for a ho-hum, been there done that story that fails to step out of its comfort zone too much.
While ‘Cars’ had a perfect balance of characters, melodrama, racing and slapstick fun, ‘Cars 2’ came off as a spin-off film for hillbilly pick-up truck Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. With a host of new locations and characters, it was very different to what we expected. ‘Cars 3’ tries to learn from the critical and audience panning by taking us back to familiar places, showing us familiar faces and spending more time with our red racer and less with the pick-up truck. Does it work? Just. The balance is still not right, and there are more new faces and more old faces but lots of moments feel shoe-horned in for effect and the overall pace is a bit jarring, jumping back and forward, which may be a bit too much for younger viewers to keep up with.
The film belongs to Owen Wilson as McQueen and newcomer Cristela Alonzo as trainer Cruz. Remember that sleek black racer from the trailers and posters? The “villain” of the piece? Armie Hammer voicing? Yeah you’ll forget him soon enough sadly as he spends all of his amounted 10mins of screen time driving around a racetrack or sneering in the pits. He doesn’t get to do much at all, nor does he present many thrills or any danger. He looks brilliant and sounds superb on screen, but he doesn’t do much, and I think it’s a real shame because he could have added the much needed “ka-chow!” to this.
You can see my frustrations here now – there is so much talking and little else, that I was a getting bored by the third time McQueen reflects on his past, or the fifth time friends remind him of Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman via unused footage from the first film), and the sixth time McQueen or Cruz or Sally or whoever fail to see themselves as anything but worthless.
Jeez, Pixar, talk about bringing the mood down.
Yes, there are fun moments, and a few silly goofs and crashes to tickle the funny bone, but they are few and far-between all the heartfelt talking, training, failing and floundering. From a blistering opening race that is more exciting than the rest of the film, to a mid-section stock-car race, to an under-whelming training session and an even more under-whelming finale, it seems the cars here want to talk more, train more but race less. Will this appeal to younger audiences? My little boy certainly switched off half-way through when the mood got solemn and the sequences were slower and moody – he came for the thrills of the first and fun of the second, but got little.
However, on the whole, the way the film looks is one big success; another perfectly presented Pixar production. The colours leap off the screen, and the attention to detail is immersive. Textures looks superb and the characters are sleek and stylish. A sequence on a beach looks as if the beach is real and the cars are super-imposed there, it looks that good! ‘Cars 3’ doesn’t disappoint technically, and the sounds of the racers send shockwaves through your bones when they rev their engines and speed around the track…when it happens finally that is.
As you can see, I love the first film and tolerate the second. This third outing is just frustrating as it sold us on something like ‘Rocky 4’ in the Pixar world. Instead, it’s a slow journey dragging a mopey racer back to the podium with little chance to fist pump the air in triumph. The actors give their characters personality, yes, that’s not in question, but they sure seem to lack some vigour in doing it.
The door has been left ajar for a fourth film, and I imagine the takings from the toys are going to smash the box-office takings as the 90min toy advert certainly sells lots of new faces and race-tracks for young audiences.
Do they need another film? At this point I’d say no, and if they do, it needs to really think what made the first film a winner and harness that again because ‘Cars 3’ starts with a bang and ends on a whimper.
Chris’ rating: 4.8 out of 10
Director: Brian Fee
Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt