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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Cars 3

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I watch a movie and blog about it, because why not?  As I do love Pixar, this entry tackles Cars 3.  I originally watched it and jotted this down on November 12, 2017.

Cars 3 Poster

Well, I did wind up going to see Cars 3 when it came out during the summer, and it surprised me by being better than expected.  But still, Cars 2 set the bar so low, they had no where to go but up.  It actually reminded me of another "Who asked for this?" Pixar sequel, Monsters University.  The one thing they share is that Monsters University and Cars 3 all have to do with the death of dreams, and how we deal with it.  Monsters University is about a dream dying young...that painful realization that, despite all your hard work and effort, your dreams may forever remain out of your reach.  Cars 3 takes place at the other end.  What happens when you start getting old, and your dream starts leaving you behind? 

Such is what happens with our hero, Lightening McQueen.  It's been 10 years since the first Cars, and for those 10 years, McQueen has been a force to be reckoned with on the track.  We're treated to a lovely first act, where we see what McQueen is like during the racing season.  He loves being on the track.  He's build up a camaraderie with his fellow racers and they get along great.  McQueen is livin' the dream. 

But then, the rookie shows up.  Jackson Storm.  Storm is arrogant, cocky, self-assured, and quickly gets in McQueen's head by taunting McQueen over how old he's getting.  One by one, more next generation racers in Storm's class start rising through the ranks, and one by one, McQueen's compatriots see the writing on the wall, and begin retiring.  Or even worse, get unceremoniously dumped by their sponsors.  McQueen refuses to go out like that.  In the final race of the season, McQueen tries a risky move to overtake Storm.  But, the risk doesn't pay off, and McQueen is in a horrendous wreck. 

We flash forward four months.  McQueen has recovered from the wreck, but he's spent most of the off-season sulking in his home.  His girlfriend Sally comes by to visit, and McQueen confides that this is how his mentor, Doc Hudson, was forced into retirement.  After a wreck, when he returned to the track, he was forgotten about, and all his friends and sponsors moved on.  But after a pep talk from Sally, and a phone conference with his sponsors, McQueen is ready to get back into shape, determined to go out on his own terms. 

McQueen's sponsors invite him down to the new state-of-the-art training facility they've built, and confide that they were able to put all this together by selling the company and retiring.  So McQueen meets the new sponsor, Sterling, and Sterling sets up McQueen with Cruz Ramirez, known to be one of the best trainers in the sport today.  Ramirez reminds me of my junior high gym teacher:  young, perky, and motivational AF.  Cruz gets to work with McQueen, but McQueen soon gets frustrated at how Cruz keeps treating him as a senior citizen.  When McQueen finally gets a chance on the simulator, he's not ready for it, and promptly crashes. 

This leads to a meeting with Sterling.  Sterling says he's going to cut McQueen from the team, and it's time for McQueen to do like many an athlete before him, and transition into a life full of endorsements and being a celebrity pitchman.  But McQueen's having none of it.  Again, he's determined to go out on his own terms.  McQueen urges Sterling to let him take a more old-school training regime, and if McQueen loses the first race of the season, he'll gladly retire and be Sterling's pet spokesman.  But, if he wins, McQueen gets to decide his own fate.  Sterling goes along with it, but insists that Cruz accompany McQueen. 

So McQueen begins his old-school tracing regimen, following in the footsteps of Doc Hudson, and heading to many of the legendary race tracks that Hudson got his start on.  The first day is on a beach.  Since Cruz has spent very little time out of the training facility, McQueen wastes the entire day teaching her how to drive on sand so she can serve as a proper pace car.  Next, they head to a famous dirt track called Thunder Hollow to take part in an amateur race.  But it turns out its demolition derby night, and McQueen has to quickly teach Cruz the fundamentals of racing on a dirt track just to stay alive. 

Got to admit, this demolition derby scene is fun.  The reigning champ is a psychotic school bus named Miss Fritter, and it's just one of the most insane action sequences in a Pixar film.  And it raises the question:  in the Cars universe, would a demo derby be like pro-wrestling, or is it a bloodsport?

Anyway, thanks to McQueen's tutelage, Cruz miraculously wins the demo derby, but McQueen is still pissed.  He's spending more time babysitting Cruz than actually training and improving.  So he and Cruz have it out. 

And I really like this scene.  Because as McQueen and Cruz hash it out, we finally a little bit of that trademark Pixar emotion that the Cars films have been lacking.  McQueen starts tearing apart Cruz for not genuinely understanding racing because she's never been a racer, and that's when our perpetually cheerful and motivational Cruz finally loses it.  She tells McQueen how she always dreamed of being a racer, it was what she always worked towards growing up, but at her very first race, she was so intimidated by the taunts and insults of the other racers, that she walked away and never went back.  I just love the heart in their final exchange:

Cruz:  Tell me something.  At your very first race, what did you do when you started thinking that you might not be able to win?

McQueen:  I...I...never thought that.

Cruz:  Huh.  I wonder what that's like.

It so perfectly sums up things like imposter syndrome and self-confidence issues,  And when you remember that Cruz is a woman, and it takes on the angle of what happens to, well, pretty much any woman when they try to get into any male-dominated field.  It's just a great scene.

Anyway, after that, McQueen starts feeling like dirt, so he calls up his best friend Mater the Tow Truck for advice.  And thank God, this is pretty much Larry the Cable Guy's only big scene in the film.  McQueen and Mater get to reminiscing about Doc Hudson, and Mater points out that someone must have trained Doc.  Inspired by Mater's words, McQueen patches things up with Cruz, and together, they seek out Smokey, Doc Hudson's old trainer. 

They find Smokey and a bunch of other retired racing legends in the former racing mecca of Thompsonville, and McQueen and Cruz begin soaking up the knowledge from these racing legends.  McQueen finally confides to Smokey that the whole purpose of this road trip is he doesn't want go out the way Doc went out, and become old and bitter about it.  But Smokey reveals to McQueen that while, yes, Doc did become bitter, it was Doc's relationship with McQueen that finally brought Doc back to his old self and re-ignited his passion for the sport. 

So McQueen begins training with Smokey and the retired legends, with Cruz now serving as McQueen's pace car.  Or, as Smokey puts it, a sparring partner.  McQueen and Cruz pick-up all the lessons from these legends, and here's where we get the curve ball that every Pixar movie seems to throw and that I love.  In their final practice race before heading to the season opener in Florida, it looks like McQueen is about to win, but, Cruz comes from behind and wins.  McQueen tries to put on a brave face, but he's clearly dejected. 

It's the day of the big race in Florida.  McQueen is doing good, but not great.  Over the headset, he can hear Sterling berate Cruz for dicking around on the road with McQueen, and orders her back to the training centre to get the rest of the team up to shape.  That's when things click for McQueen, and he pulls in for a pit stop.  He finally realizes that, in their road trip, he spent a lot of his time passing along his knowledge and training to Cruz, and it's time for Cruz to have that shot she was deprived of when all those other racers bullied her into quitting.  After a quick consult with the rules to make sure than can do this, they pin McQueen's number 95 onto Cruz, and they send her out into the race, with McQueen becoming Cruz's crew chief. 

Cruz begins moving up the ranks, and miraculously, she's soon in third place.  Figuring he has to do something about this, Storm drops back so he can trash talk Cruz.  Cruz goes back to her first day, when she was bullied off the track, and starts easing off the throttle.  But then, McQueen points out that Storm wouldn't have bothered doing that, if he didn't perceive Cruz as a threat.  She doesn't have to be afraid of him, because he's afraid of her.  With this new insight, Cruz begins returning the trash talk to Storm as good as she's getting, and she powers on to win the race. 

Now that she's the newest rookie sensation, Sterling tries to make nice with Cruz, but she's all "F U, I quit.," and she's promptly snatched up by dream sponsor Dinoco.  Sterling is like, "Whatever.  McQueen wasn't in the race, so I still own him."  But it turns out, since McQueen started the race and he and Cruz shared the number 95, he, too, is declared a winner.  Sterling is beside himself, and Dinoco decides to resolve the situation by simply buying out Sterling.  So, Cruz is the new rookie sensation, McQueen gracefully makes the transition from player to coach, and as a tribute to his old mentor Doc, McQueen starts wearing Doc's old colours.  It's happy endings all around!

And that's Cars 3, which again, is a lot better than expected, but still not Pixar`s finest.  The animation is absolutely gorgeous.  Probably Pixar`s most photo-realistic film to date.  The voice acting is great as well.  Stand-up comic Cristla Alonzo does the voice of Cruz, and she`s just wonderful.  For Sterling, you needed a smooth MF, so of course they got Nathan Fillion.  He plays a great salesman, as he knows when it's time to turn up the charm. 

And the Cars films always seem to have pretty good soundtracks.  Randy Newman returns, after having done the first film, and it's good to hear him revisit some of his themes from the first film.  And the pop songs on the soundtrack are nice and catchy as well.

Don't get me wrong,Cars is still the lesser of the Pixar franchises, but Cars 3 is still a lot better than it could have been.

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