At the end of last month, Pixar Animation invited /Film out to their campus in Emeryville, California to watch footage from Cars 3 and take part in their big press day event with presentations from the filmmakers who are bringing Lightning McQueen to the big screen again this summer.
Pixar Animation showed us roughly 50 minutes from Cars 3, essentially half the movie, starting from the race where Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has his massive crash that we’ve seen in the teaser trailer up through his attempts to train for a comeback, where he meets high-tech trainer Cruz Ramirez, the breakout new character voiced by comedian Cristela Alonzo.
So how does it stack up against other Pixar movies, and where does it stand with regards to the other movies in the Cars franchise? Find out more in our Cars 3 footage reaction after the jump.
The good news is that this looks like the best film in the Cars series yet, but it’s still held back somewhat by still being part of the world that doesn’t entirely feel like it fits in with the rest of Pixar’s work. Still, Cars 3 may have the most heart out of any of the films in the series thanks to one of the movie’s new characters, and it has what is probably the most exciting and entertaining sequence the franchise has seen yet. We dig much deeper below.
Some possible spoilers follow if that’s something that concerns you.
Our footage presentation began with the race where Lightning McQueen famously crashes, the scene from the teaser trailer that likely made plenty of kids stare with their mouths wide open in horror. In this race, we get to see that Lightning isn’t the racer he used to be. His new rival Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), an advanced, sleek car moves smoothly and efficiently around the track, not unlike Lightning used to do in the first Cars, we see that McQueen is struggling to keep up. Even as he puts the pedal to the metal, you know that he can’t quite handle these new advanced racers, his body shuddering as he speeds up. He’s still a fairly young car as far as his racing career is concerned, but the racing world, especially in the technology department, has caught up with his talent.
The race offers more of the same that we’ve seen in the Cars franchise before, at least until Lightning’s big crash. If you thought the brief shots in the teaser were hard-hitting, wait until you see this actual sequence. It’s even more painful when you see it fully play out. Every time Lighting’s body hits the pavement, you hear and feel the crunch and scrape of his body as the wreck unfolds. Funnily enough, when the animation department had finished some shots from this sequence, director Brian Fee and story supervisor Scott Morse said they wanted to punch it up to make it more realistic and intense. When you see this sequence, I think you’ll agree that they certainly delivered.
Following his big crash, we catch up with Lightning McQueen sometime later. It’s clear some time has passed as he’s already back in his garage in Radiator Springs. His body is still unfinished, looking more like a prototype car than the sleek, hot rod red race car we’re used to seeing. Lightning has clearly been taking some time to himself, shaken up by his big crash and what it means for his career. A memory of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) enters his mind, with a faded image of the Hudson Hornet appearing in the garage, words of advice echoing in his head.
This scene shows that Cars 3 has certainly matured a bit. The tone is more in line with Cars than Cars 2, thankfully, and while the story to come for Lightning isn’t exactly subtle, it’s more nuanced than the first film. There’s a lot of inward reflection that Lightning has to deal with this time. The filmmakers even said they took the time to talk to real-life NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon when he was in the midst of retiring from racing to get into the mindset of a racer who feels like he’s reached the pinnacle of his career.
Lightning McQueen is already a champion, so he’s accomplished his dream. Now he has to figure out if the passion is there to get him back to racing after this big crash. It’s not just about winning, and it’s not about putting on a show the way Lightning used to do, it’s about the love of the game, and director Brian Fee wanted to make sure that resonated through the movie. It shows in this scene, but it gets even more emotional later in the film.
The scene also featured very sparing use of Larry the Cable Guy as Mater, something which more loyal fans might not necessarily be happy to hear. But for me, personally, I’ve never liked this character’s dimwitted comedic relief, and the less we see of this character, especially after following him for a whole movie in Cars 2, the better off Cars 3 is. After all, there are plenty of new characters we have to meet to help push the story forward.
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