There’s a running joke about how Pixar finances critically acclaimed, unique pieces of animation like Inside Out with awful, uninteresting garbage like Planes and Cars. As the old adage goes, it’s funny cause it’s true, and Cars 3 is no exception.
We once again follow Lighting McQueen, this time as he enters the twilight of his racing career. A ton of new supercars are now on the scene, and one of them, Jackson Storm, seems invincible. He’s hired by Sterling, an uber-rich enthusiast, who plans his racing comeback with trainer Cruz, in the hopes that one day he can again come out top in the races.
The first problem that director Brian Fee runs into is the stature he gives the Cars series as a whole. It’s never been anything but a low-brow, samey universe that entertains the kids on a rainy afternoon. Instead of acknowledging this, Cars 3 imagines itself as a long-gestating sequel to a critically acclaimed and iconic cinematic universe (more on that later). I can only imagine that the studio is cashing in on eighteen/nineteen year olds who remember the original iteration as one of their first movies – but I’m just clutching at straws.
It’s all the rage these days – rebooting culturally significant property. Star Wars, Mad Max, and Die Hard did it; Blade Runner is doing it; and even, to a lesser extent, Evil Dead did it (although that reboot is a goddamn masterpiece). I’m going to use Star Wars as the primary example for the following criticism of Cars 3, because it’s the most widely seen of these, but aspects of what I say are applicable to many reboots.
The structure of Cars 3 is exactly the same as The Force Awakens: it’s a cynical, calculating cash grab, orchestrated to look genuine and modern. You take a culturally-significant property (Cars 3 is not, as I have previously said, a suitable candidate for this treatment in the first place) and retain the main cast – solely for nostalgia value. These characters (A.K.A. Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo) make incessant remarks about getting too old for this shit, and contemplating retirement. The plot structure is also exactly the same to the plot structure of the first film in the series (Cars and A New Hope). It’s as if Disney have made the same film twice, but this time with a lot less skill.
Out of nowhere, a new female protagonist emerges, whose sole dialogue consists of comments about how she feels oppressed by patriarchal society (in Cars 3 this comes in a cringey ‘I always wanted to be a racer, but all the racers are so much stronger than me so I had to be a trainer’; and in The Force Awakens it was all the painfully self-conscious ‘stop holding my hand’ comments). By the end of the film, both Rey and Cruz have become the main protagonists of the series, ready to carry on the saga.
There are plenty of fantastic kick-ass female leads: take Sigourney Weaver in Alien, or Sharni Vinson in You’re Next. There are also plenty of female leads in not-so-great films – such as in Wonder Woman or The Hunger Games. They exist because they exist – they have female leads because roughly 50% of the world’s population is female, and there’s no reason why leads should be male. This is different from, say, Cars 3, because Cars 3 has a female lead for far more cynical reasons.
Pop-culture feminism is a surefire way to gain positive critical attention (for reasons that you could write a book on) – one only needs to look at the bland mess that was Wonder Woman to see that. And, having this new female protagonist constantly speaking about how she’s had to overcome adversity instead of actually, you know, just demonstrating her skill reminds the critics that the movie has a ‘strong female lead’. In short, it’s a direct marketing move. To me, this undermines the whole point of feminism in the first place, because it suggests that women can only justify their existence in movies as ‘overcoming the patriarchy’ rather than simply existing as awesome characters (such as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road). A much better way to handle this would just have been to make Cruz the main character through her own hard work and ambition, rather than maintaining this idea that she’s held back by society and needs another person (McQueen) to give her a chance to shine.
It honestly feels as if Pixar is playing a popular and valid societal movement to profit off other people’s hardship in gaining equality – which feels morally wrong in so many ways. Cars 3 feels unnatural and forced, because it’s commercialising a worldwide social cause and turning it into fast food.
From a starting point, therefore, Cars 3 is ideologically deficient, predictable, and unoriginal. Weirldy, as an animated film about talking cars, it’s an exact replica of a completely different film (albeit from the same overarching studio).
The next problem is that it’s pacing is just awful. For the first hour, roughly nothing happens. It’s just a whole load of beige build-up, with a bunch of characters we don’t really care about, following the story arc of the original Cars. I promise you, without a shred of exaggeration, that I was falling asleep at around the forty-minute mark. I also promise you, without a shred of exaggeration, that my companion for the film was also falling asleep at around the forty-minute point. Luckily, in its final act, the pace picks up a little, with the final twenty or so minutes being very watchable, if without any tension or excitement. Ideological issues aside, if your film is physically sending people to sleep then you have a real dud on your hands. Usually, Pixar provides some quality – last year’s Moana was a fun and beautiful ride – but this time they’ve really struggled to add anything of note.
The final problem is that there’s nothing to salvage it. No particularly standout animation; no particularly good voice acting; no surprises; nothing. I laughed once – at a meta-joke in which one character asked another if cars had phones, to which the response was ‘no, silly, cars don’t have phones’. But, aside from that, there’s a dearth of comic material. There’s just nothing to praise – and that, alone, makes it a terrible film.
So yeah, I hate Cars 3. I hate Cars 3 because it thinks it’s significant, when it’s not. I hate Cars 3 because it’s an unoriginal mess. I hate Cars 3 because it’s the product of a cynical, calculating profit-machine that cares about nothing but revenue. I hate Cars 3 because it strengthens the negative perception of feminism as propagated by so-called ‘social justice warriors’. And, most of all, I hate Cars 3 because it’s boring. We didn’t need it, we don’t want it, and it sucks. Pixar – sort yourselves out.
Featured image: The Upcoming.