In discussions about the best Pixar movies, Cars always comes up short. It's not that its a bad film, but it simply doesn’t compare to the very best of what Pixar can do. It has none of the heart of the Toy Story films, or the inventive storytelling of Wall-E, nor the thoroughly compelling genius of Inside Out. It's got some great visuals and its a lot of fun to watch. It's a good, solid family entertainment. But when it comes to Pixar good just isn’t enough for some people. I like it more than most but it's definitely second-tier Pixar.
Truth be told, I never got around to watching Cars 2. I always meant to (still do, in fact) but reviews were pretty hard and the trailers made it look like a knock-off version (and let’s not even talk about the actual cheap knock-off Planes movies) and I just never got around to it.
When Cars 3 came, early word was that it was a return to form for Pixar (or at least a return to form for the Cars series). I was moderately excited. Not so excited that when it became Movie Night I didn’t let my wife and child see it without me while I caught Alien: Covenant instead, but definitely excited enough that I was a little sad about that.
On November 7, it will be out on Blu-ray and I’ve finally seen it and…it's…pretty good. I guess. It is stunningly gorgeous film. There is a montage in the middle where the cars take a ride across various landscapes and it's just beautiful. There’s another long shot where the camera approaches a race track from the ocean that will take your breath away. But the story never really does much of anything. It's more Disney than Pixar and that’s always going to disappoint.
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is on top of the world. He’s consistently winning races. He’s got a great relationship with his sponsors. He’s got dear friends back home at Radiator Springs. He’s got a friendly rivalry with another race car and he absolutely loves racing. Everything is great until one day a group of rookies, led by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), shows up. These guys represent the next generation of racers with modified engines, the best training facilities in the world, and a penchant for studying the numbers to produce better results.
Lightning gets whooped by Jackson Storm and suffers a near-fatal crash. While recovering, his Rust-eze boys sell their company to a man (er, car) named Sterling (Nathan Fillion). He says he’s excited about Lighting’s chances and treats him to a state-of-the art training facility and the talents of a new trainer, Cruz Ramierz (Cristela Alonzo). When he’s treated like an old man (er car) in need of rehabilitation and not the champion he knows he is, he gets cocky and wrecks the simulator. Sterling wants to retire Lightning and have him sell mudflaps, but Lightning talks him into letting him have one more race. If he wins, then he can race as much as he wants, and if he loses, he’ll go to being a salesman.
Queue up that training montage. Lightning decides to eschew the high-tech facility and instead hit the beaches, the backwoods demolition derby, and every other sports-movie cliche he can think of. By the end of the movie he’ll…well, I don’t want to spoil it, except to say if you are even halfway paying attention, you won’t be surprised to where it goes. To put it another way, Doc Hudson’s memory (they used discarded audio footage that Paul Newman recorded during the first Cars for this sequel made after the actor’s death) weighs heavy on Lightning’s mind and he seems pretty poised to take on that role here.
Most of the characters from Cars are relegated to cameo roles as well. They appear briefly in a few scenes and instead, the film relies on its new characters to tell the story. None of them are as interesting or fun to watch as the more familiar ones. I hate to complain that a movie about a race car has too much racing, but there is a lot of racing in this movie. Racing is boring enough in real life but when it's fictional, racing by animated cars with pretty much zero stakes it enters a new level of pointless.
It's not that any of this is bad. It's quite well made and enjoyable to watch. It's just that it never rises above like you want a Pixar film to do. Clearly, the franchise has its many fans and I doubt any of them will be disappointed here. The audio and visuals are impeccable. As noted, the film looks amazing and that is in full representation on the Blu-ray. The audio sounds great as well. There’s lots of full-throttle racing sounds that will give your home stereo a work out.
This set is loaded with extras including a full extra disk of them. There is the new Pixar short "Lou" about a grade-school recess where lost-and-found items come to life. There’s an audio commentary from the director, producers, and creative director. Plus, a five-part feature on the making of the movie, humorous in-story commercials, deleted scenes, several silly featurettes, and promos. It includes a DVD copy of the film and codes to get a digital copy as well.
Cars 3 doesn’t do anything you don’t expect it to. It's a solid film with some great animation and characters fans have grown to live. Its story is pretty simple and its moral pretty banal, but it's well made. It really is a good movie, and if you are willing to let good be enough for your Pixar fix, then this Blu-ray set is terrific.
Cars 3 Easter Eggs: