Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cars 3

2/4

Starring (voices): Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Larry the Cable Guy, Nathan Fillon, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer

Rated G

My relationship with Pixar's "Cars" franchise is not strong.  I started watching the original on pay-per-view but fell asleep (and was unimpressed with what I saw).  I never saw "Cars 2."  I was wary of approaching this movie with so little familiarity with it's respective franchise.  But then I remembered that Pixar's target audience is little kids, and therefore unlikely that their films demand fanboy obsessiveness like the Marvel Cinematic Universe does.

That said, "Cars 3" is a pretty lame movie.  It follows the Pixar formula of telling a story to convey a certain theme (in this case, it's that time never stops), peppering it with humor, action and heart.  The thing is, it doesn't do any of that well.  The humor is hit-and-miss with the misses being the most prominent (although there is a hilarious sequence in which Lightning McQueen has trouble with a racing simulator), the heart-tugging moments are muted because they're so cliché, and the action is routine.  Pixar made its name on taking bold risks and great storytelling.  It's not like them to put out a product just to make money (although it's been done before...remember "Monsters University?").

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is once again on the top of the racing world.  He's a winner and the public loves him for it.  However, his perch is threatened by a new upstart named Jackson Storm (Hammer), a hotshot with a lot of techno bells and whistles.  Soon, everyone starts copying him, and Lightning's old frenemies either retire or get fired by their sponsors.  To give him the best edge, his old sponsors sold their business to one of his longtime fans, a car named Sterling (Fillon).  Sterling promises to give Lightning everything he needs, but after said disaster with the simulator, Sterling thinks that it's time for Lightning to retire.  Lightning wants to retire on his own terms, so he makes Sterling a deal: if he wins the next race, he can keep racing.  If not, it's a lifetime of endorsements and publicity deals.  So he sets out to train harder than ever, and tagging along is his mantra-obsessed trainer, Cruz Ramierz (Alonzo).

"Cars 3" reeks of marketing-driven filmmaking.  Every element of this film seems to be there simply to target a certain market.  True, this is something that happens with just about every movie, but the best movies like the Pixar canon hide it with good screenwriting and smart filmmaking.  "Cars 3" is so unsubtle about it that it's almost offensive.  The gay stereotyping is just as appalling.

The voice acting is effective.  Owen Wilson, Crestela Alonzo, and the rest of the cast doe their jobs well.  The problem is that they aren't given anything to work with.  Pixar has been known for putting a lot of TLC into its writing and filmmaking.  Who can forget the dynamic relationship between Woody and Buzz in the first "Toy Story" movie?  Or the sheer brilliance of Dory's dialogue in "Finding Nemo?"  This is pedestrian filmmaking at its most obvious.

Pixar has become so beloved that even non-film fans know the studio name and will flock to their films because Pixar is synonymous with quality.  But they're becoming less reliable.  "Inside Out" was their last big movie, (although others loved it more than I did).  The last great movie was "Brave," and that was five years ago.  If Pixar wants to keep its reputation, they gotta stop the cash grabs like this and "Monsters University."  Unless they feel that they've got a story worth telling, they should move on to a new story.  Come to think of it, every studio should operate by this ideal.

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