Running out of juice ……
Here we go again! Another trilogy, another third instalment and all the space of just a fortnight. Because round the corner comes Cars 3, the third act in the career of Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), the proverbial little red Corvette.
That said, it’s more like the second act, because the much-maligned Cars 2 (2011) put his old buddy Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) in the spotlight. Now he’s relegated to a supporting role, which is something of a relief, and McQueen is back where he belongs. Or he’s trying to be.
In his own mind, he’s still a superstar, still the one to beat, but the truth is that he’s being overtaken and out-run by a new breed of car, chiefly the black and purple monster Jackson Storm (the velvety tones of Armie Hammer). Before McQueen can say “pitstop”, he’s been in a serious crash, is on the verge of retirement and disappears off the radar. With the help of trainer Cruz Ramirez (the voice of Cristela Alonso), he sets off to re-discover his hunger for racing. But can he ever beat Storm?
Now here’s a curious thing. The Cars franchise has never made any secret that it’s aimed at kids, ie the under-12s. Cars 3 offers plenty of racing action with the occasional crash or stunt, and it’s easy enough to distinguish the characters. But it’s really hard to work out who the target audience is this time round, because it comes complete with a large dollop of nostalgia that will mean nothing to the younger members of the audience.
Nor will the idea of McQueen feeling pushed out of the life he loves because he’s seen as old and past it. The adults will get all this, and will pick up on the references to the first movie: back then, it was McQueen who was the newcomer beating everybody in sight and his mentor, Doc Hudson (the voice of the late Paul Newman) is brought back to remind us. Only those old enough to know their Newman films will pick up on his nickname being Hud.
Inevitably, there’s all the wholesome values you’d expect from Pixar, and they’re also making sure they’re on the right side of the feminism debate. Ramirez has always had to settle for being a trainer, instead of being a racer. It’s the usual line of following your dream, no matter how many obstacles are put in your way, and it’s all rather obvious.
Director Brian Fee’s confusion about the film’s audience makes for an end result that’s surprisingly unengaging and, at times, nothing short of flat. Some scenes are there just as fillers, making sure things are ticking over – and making your eyelids droop. There aren’t enough strong characters, with a lot of the new ones fading into the background. The only exception is Storm, who certainly looks and sounds the part. As a film, it’s OK, but nothing much more.
Pixar haven’t exactly rushed to give us this third episode and there’s the sense that, after Cars 2’s rough reception, they’re trying to redress the balance. They’ve made something safe, solid and unremarkable. There’s already speculation about Cars 4, but nobody’s confirming anything. On the strength of this, if they go ahead, they’ll need something more powerful in the tank.
Cars 3 is released on Friday, 14 July 2017.