Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cars 3

Pixar has a pretty staggering track record of amazing movies. The first Cars movie was where I decided that I should always trust them. The premise looked thoroughly stupid, but the movie ended up being very good. Then Cars 2 came along and really betrayed that trust. To the point that I never saw Planes, or the Fire and Rescue sequel (and I've never heard word that I missed much). So I had VERY low expectations of Cars 3. To the point of not planning to see it.

But then we got free tickets (because we are giant Disnerds), so we went. And I'm very glad we did. This movie got right back into the groove that Cars set up, and took the story to the logical-but-surprising next step. It didn't blow my mind, or make me cry, or knock any of my favorites out of their place. But it was a good, solid movie that was fun, touching, real, and had some good messaging.

The set-up of the movie is pretty good. McQueen has had several good years on top of the Piston Circuit. He's had a good career, and shifted smoothly from upstart rookie to respected champion. Then a new upstart rookie comes out of nowhere! Just like he did! And the upstart is rude and arrogant, just like he was! Yeah, the parallels are drawn in pretty bold strokes.

But this rookie is only the first in a new breed of racers. They are better engineered (please don't ask me how that works in universe) and better trained. All of McQueen's peers start opting for retirement (and not all voluntarily). In a desperate bid to prove that he is still competitive, McQueen pushes too hard and ends up in a catastrophic crash.

Will he recover?

So we're taking the set-up of the first movie and turning it on its head. (We're thankfully not even acknowledging that the second movie ever happened.) But also continuing the through-line of "if you want to win, you have to learn to race smarter, not just faster". It does it without the device of being trapped in a small town, but adds a contrast between fancy tech and "back to basics". It also manages to find a way to hammer home the continuing theme that "those old folks deserve respect, even if they can't compete any more".

And then the story twists in the third act. In a way that I totally didn't see coming, but which is obviously foreshadowed in hindsight. It was immensely satisfying.

Did the movie have problems? Oh, yeah, lots of them. McQueen is still basically an asshole, though he's a lot more self-aware about it now. Several of the characters were remarkably dumb or oblivious. The device to put on the pressure was ham-fisted at best. And the denouement had a number of ridiculously contrived methods for wrapping up loose ends. For a Pixar movie, it was terribly amateurish. For a standard kids' movie, it was better than average.

Rating kids' movies on the feminism scale always feels vaguely unfair. But, it's also how kids learn what's "normal", so it's important. Unless I'm forgetting a scene, I'm fairly certain the movie fails the Bechdel Test. But it passes the Mako Mori Test with flying colors. It's also nice that there are side characters that are female that didn't have to be, and aren't simply stereotypical. I do wish that there had been other female racers. It's a problem that many movies, particularly animated ones, experience. Given a largely faceless background character, the assumption is to make it male, even if it doesn't need to be. So there were some nice pro-girl touches, but this movie isn't going to stand out for either passing or failing at feminism.

Should you see this? If you enjoyed the first Cars movie, then definitely. If you either didn't enjoy the first one (and I know many people in that category) or don't see kids' movies as a rule, I wouldn't bother. I'll also say that there was nothing in this movie that was improved by the theater experience. Skip the kids (or skip trying to control your kids) and watch it at home.

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