Cars 3 Review: The End of a Motorised Franchise

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Cars 3 has, in a subtle and harmless way, driven itself into the franchise’s end.

Like the prior two films from the animated Disney-Pixar saga, Cars 3 is primarily about racing.

Definitely not as action-packed as the previous movie which added an espionage element to the plot, this third installment begins with the main character Lightning McQueen losing a race (and the Piston Cup to boot) to a young rookie named Jackson Storm, a modern vehicle equipped with all the latest innovations for speed.

It looks like McQueen, whose famous inspirational quote has always been, “Speed… I am speed,” is falling off to the wayside as Storm and other new models continue to fly past him with ease on the racing track.

Lightning quick. Cars 3.
Lightning quick. Cars 3. Source: Pixar

Lightning also witnesses his best friends in the racing business leave one by one and get replaced by rookies until he is the last car of his generation competing in the races. Eventually, in the last race of the season, McQueen has a serious crash which renders him less likely to be sponsored in the upcoming racing season.

While recuperating back at his home base of Radiator Springs in the Western United States, he’s afraid to admit failure and accept his retirement, which seems inevitable.

The roles of new characters and dead characters

Lightning recalls the terrible accident that ended the active racing career of his old friend Doc Hudson, a character who is barely mentioned in Cars 2 (since he passed away) but lives on in several new flashbacks in the third film.

These brief flashbacks are still voiced by the Hudson Hornet’s original portrayer, Paul Newman (who actually was a racer himself for a time) who passed away in 2008, several years before the 2011 sequel to Cars. Newman is featured posthumously in the credits of Cars 3.

On a side note, have you ever wasted your time wondering how Disney and Pixar would explain how cars “die” or how they “come into existence?” It would be pretty weird if they ever tried to discuss the human acts of life, marriage, or death.

I guess that’s why Sally and Lightning, who have been going steady for years now, have never gotten “married,” since then the script writers would have to attempt to explain a “family” of cars. Still, I would be curious.

Cars 3 Dirt Track
Dirt track. Source: Pixar

Anyway, Sally helps get Lightning’s “butte” in gear, and he is off to visit a modern and respectful racing centre where he is to be trained by the young Cruz Ramirez, a gal who has always dreamt of being a professional racer instead of just a coach who understands the racer mentality.

As she tries to help Lightning, she sees how stubborn he can be as well as preoccupied on beating his rival Storm. She continues in her attempts to aid McQueen, including putting up with some pretty unorthodox training methods.

They meet the fabulous Hudson Hornet’s old mentor Smokey (who for some inexplicable reason is still alive when Hudson, who was obviously younger, is dead). But I did like the introduction of the new character Smokey since he is important in relation to some of the flashbacks and history behind Doc Hudson.

McQueen also has to conquer his ego, and does the right thing by helping Cruz. McQueen actually starts teaching her a few of the tricks of the trade, and during his first race of the new season, knowing that he cannot beat Storm, makes Cruz’s dream a reality by having her finish the race. She accomplishes this, gaining first place and the Piston Cup, which Cruz and Lightning share.

The last lap

In the end, I have to say it Cars 3 is a decent film, one truly deserving the G rating. The unnecessary adult-themed innuendos are almost entirely absent; the only phrase that strict parents might be concerned about for kids is the term “heck.”

There are some clean comical parts as well, and that’s always a thumbs up. There are several sequences where Lightning’s age is made fun of. For instance, he is called “old timer,” and Cruz tells him he should take a nap.

Even though he says he intends to keep racing, Cars 3 leaves Lightning in a near-retirement sort of stage; he works as a racing coach just as Doc Hudson had done in his old age. I do not like the fact that Mater (the true star of Cars 2) and the rest of McQueen’s friends in Radiator Springs were nearly absent. They had almost nothing to do with Cars 3.

A few other film critics such as Dirk Libbey and Peter Sciretta have considered the possibilities of a Cars 4 movie. However, I believe that the latest installment of the trilogy has slowly driven the franchise to a stop. Cars 3 gave us a pleasant, subtle ending to the story. As Lightning sets in for retirement, so should the movie series.

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