It goes without saying that any Pixar film is going to have a certain amount of buzz surrounding it. Their latest film Luca is perhaps getting the most discussion because it is not getting a theatrical release but going straight to Disney Plus. Some have seen this as a sign of a lack of faith by the studio in the project while others have deemed it a compliment as it is being singled out to market the streaming service, which is so key to their current business strategy. I guess it depends whether you see Disney Plus as more of a dumping ground or shining platform which side you land on.
Anyway, beyond its release let’s talk about the movie itself. What’s interesting is a lot of the feedback I am hearing I do not agree with. I know I’m in the minority but Soul wasn’t a favorite of mine. I still recommended it (and certainly don’t hate it) but the script became muddled and the message felt all over the place- particularly when it comes to the mid-section involving a cat. At one point it seemed to be saying to embrace your spark, find out what you are meant to do in life but in other ways it said that spark alienated you from other people and led to unhappiness: that a normal life is better than a creatively inspired one.
So Soul is a movie I admire for the music and animation but the script let me down. Now Luca, on the other hand, has much smaller ideas and it in my opinion does a better job in executing that simple vision. To put it simply Luca is a story about friendship, summer and growing up. That’s it. No big emotional punches or big action scenes. Just a simple sweet story.
To be more specific Luca tells the story of a young fish creature named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) who bristles up against his controlling parents and wonders what can be in the world above the ocean (obviously a plotline I love. The Little Mermaiddie hard fan!). One day he meets a boy named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), and he realizes they become human when dry on land and turn back into fish creatures when wet.
Both Alberto and Luca’s dream of racing around Italy on Vespas and when they meet a girl named Gulia (Emma Berman) they enter a race to win their own vespa. There’s a ‘villain’ Ercole who challenges them in the race and plays the part of the bully needed for this kind of narrative. The bigger threat is any of them getting wet from the ocean or even worse rain!
I can see why some think the story of Luca is too simple but I don’t agree. I liked being with Luca, Alberto and Giulia as they ate gelato and raced around the Italian countryside together. And it’s not like there aren’t deeper themes which can be pulled from the story. Obviously the idea of hiding who you are and being fearful of being discovered is something that will ring true for LGTBQ audiences and more.
But mostly it’s a story about friendship and I’m a huge sucker for those kinds of stories. There’s something special about the friendships we make as children. The free spirited nature and lack of agenda give a purity to the relationships that is tough to impossible to replicate as adults. Luca captures this magic, and I really enjoyed it.
And hey it made me want to go to Italy so nothing wrong with that!
Fortunately if you have Disney Plus you don’t have to decide whether to watch Luca or Soul. You can enjoy both to your hearts desire. Someday I hope to see both in a theater but for now I’m grateful for the artists at Pixar and their incredible track record of touching films.
Luca is a delightful tale of summer friendship the whole family will love
Before writing this review I realized I never did my blog review of Onward. I reviewed it on my youtube channel but it was such a crazy time in March I forgot to review it on the blog. I will do a longer review for Onward eventually but it will be out of order with Soul because I am short on time at the moment. (I enjoyed Onward for the record).
Honestly I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to reviewing Soul. I really debated how to best express myself. I even watched it twice to be sure of my thoughts (I don’t normally do that but it is an unsual film and I wanted to be sure).
Let me start out by saying I did enjoy the film. It is bold, ambitious and full of things to think about and discuss. I greatly admire Pete Doctor for making such a film and for Disney/Pixar to have the audacity to put $150 million into what is essentially a CGI arthouse piece.
And I think that is essentially the best way to view Soul. If we look at it as an experimental arthouse piece rather than a blockbuster feature film it makes more sense and is more satisfactory.
Now I am going to say something that might be unpopular: I don’t think Soul is for kids. It doesn’t have anything offensive, and I suppose some more philosophic children may like it, but I don’t think kids will enjoy the picture. It has no gateway for children to access the film like Inside Out did. In fact, it doesn’t have as much in common with Inside Out as many people are expecting (or at least I was expecting)
Inside Out has Riley as our entryway into the world of the brain. In addition, emotions are something easy for children to relate to. It’s also funny and sweet with scenarios kids can understand like losing a hockey game or moving to a new town.
Soul, on the other hand, is about a grown man named Joe who is struggling with the meaning of his life. He has questions like, should he settle for the teacher job or keep trying to get the big gig and share his love of jazz music with the world? Footnote- It’s kind of weird how the movie looks down on teaching (it makes sense for the character but just unexpected in a family film). Joe doesn’t have any children nor are there any children in his life aside from his students who are only briefly seen (nothing like Russell in Up for instance).
At the beginning of the film Joe gets his big break playing for a jazz legend at the Half Note Club. Unfortunately on his way home he falls through a man-hole in the street and goes to the afterlife. (This isn’t a spoiler. It’s right in the trailer).
The animation in these sequences is absolutely stunning. Some of the most beautiful blending of 2D and CG I’ve ever seen. This is when I wish I could have seen Soul on the big screen because the images combined with the beautiful score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took my breath away. Stunning.
But back to the story, Joe doesn’t want to die, so he escapes the Great Beyond and meets a pre-earth spirit called 22. She is convinced Earth is a big scam and that life isn’t worth even attempting. Joe then helps 22 to find her spark, all the while coming to realize what his spark is (which may or may not be jazz).
22 voiced by Tina Fey is supposed to be our entry-point for children, but I don’t think she is. Maybe I’m wrong and kids will love it but the film strikes me as too heady with too slow a pacing for children? I think they will be bored. Are kids interested in career goals? Do they wonder whether our passions are satisfying enough without relationships? Do kids think a lot about what makes for a fulfilling life?
But let’s assume kids don’t like Soul. Is that a problem? I honestly don’t know. Instead of Inside Out I’d compare this movie to Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow shorts or his feature It’s a Beautiful Day. I admire Hertzfeldt’s philosophical films but they aren’t very rewatchable and not something I love. I like to think of myself as a pretty introspective person, but I suppose I go to religion for this type of spiritual nourishment rather than an animated film. Your mileage may be better than mine, but I guess I like to be entertained a little more when I go to the movies.
There are a few attempts at humor like a repeated gag with pizza that are fun. There’s also a funny section with a cat but it’s mostly a very serious slow meditation on the meaning of life. I definitely recommend seeing it (I actually think Disney Plus is the perfect spot for it to be honest) but have a journal handy to write about your experience and ask yourself questions like these:
What is your spark? Has your passion led you to an empty life? Can the passion be a lie? Is a spark what you do or is it innately a part of who you are as a soul of divine worth? Does your career or passions matter at all?
I’m still pondering what the film is trying to say, which is a good thing I suppose. It just makes writing this review difficult!
In the end, I admire Pixar and Pete Docter for making Soul. It’s a bold, ambitious, challenging film that will appeal more to adults than kids. Whether that is a problem I’m still pondering. I do wish it had tried to entertain me a little bit more as well as make me think. However, the animation is stunning and the music gorgeous. I recommend it but just know what you are getting yourself into before watching it.
Like many people I was a bit anxious when I heard the announcement of Toy Story 4. How could Pixar bring another entry into their treasured franchise after Toy Story 3 ended in such a satisfying way? It seemed like an impossible task but the Pixar folks have always said they only do sequels if they have a story, so I trusted them to get it right! Today I am happy to tell you my trust was not in vain. Toy Story 4 is another wonderful addition to our team of toys and a fitting conclusion to our best friend Woody’s story.
It’s impossible to talk about Toy Story 4 without discussing the trajectory of the previous 3 films. In Toy Story we have a confident Woody who learns to be a friend to the new and different Buzz. He begins the story as a good leader but as many leaders are, he’s also self-interested and prone to jealousy and deep insecurities. It is only through becoming friends with Buzz that Woody learns to let go of his pride and serve others.
Then we get to Toy Story 2where Woody learns to think of Andy, and his commitment to letting Andy play with him as long as he wants. It’s his mission and calling and it is more important than being worshiped in a Tokyo museum. In Toy Story 3 the team has struggled and become a family and that deep and abiding bond gets them through the prison that is the daycare center.
So what about Toy Story 4? What is left to learn? Well, to answer that question we have to think about the nature of toys in this universe. As far as I can tell their sentience is eternal. They have no bodily fluids so arms can be removed, they can be reassembled into new toys without any reduction to their sentience. This leads us to the question of how can Pixar retire the toys if they can’t be killed?
We could leave Woody to be played with by Bonnie but doesn’t that lead to the same cycle over and over again? Is that a happy ending for our friends? There has to be a way for them to progress or what once gave them joy (playing with a child) will become miserable. I think the people at Pixar realized this and that Toy Story 3 could not be the actual ending for these characters because as happy as it was for Bonnie it wasn’t really a happy ending for Woody.
So, that’s where we get to Toy Story 4. As an old cowboy doll Woody is not a favorite toy of Bonnie. She is kind to her toys but prefers other toys like playing with Jessie. One day she goes to kindergarten and makes a toy out of trash she calls Forky. Creating her own toy seems to give her comfort during the scary time of a new school and she loves Forky dearly. Woody sees this and decides to watch over Forky and make sure it learns how to be a toy for Bonnie (a thing it rejects as it isn’t used to being sentient). Basically Woody becomes Forky’s father, and like a baby rejects things that are good for it, so does Forky.
Woody decides that taking care of Forky is his new role in the bedroom. He even says at one point that ‘it’s all I have left’. He knows his playing days are minimal and this is the most important thing he can do to help Bonnie. He even jumps out of a moving car window in order to help save Forky. (This is quite different than his response in Toy Story. He would have been happy to see Buzz in the trash back then).
Eventually Forky and Woody end up in an antique store in a small town where to their surprise they run into an old friend Bo Peep. She had been given away by Molly (Andy’s sister) years before and to Woody’s surprise she has figured out a whole new way to live. She’s strong, confident and happy with an almost pirate-like existence. She still gets to be played with at the park but as she says ‘I am not lost’. Every day she determines her destiny and how she is going to contribute to the world.
At first Woody is shocked by this and has difficulty understanding her way of living. But as the mechanics of the plot go forward he starts to see how independent Bo is which is very attractive and eye-opening. Most of the shenanigans with Gabby Gabby and Duke Caboom are fun in their own right but more importantly they are opportunities for Woody’s room-based view of the world to expand.
That’s not to say these events aren’t amusing because they are absolutely hilarious. Duck and Bunny in particular create some of the funniest sequences in the history of the Toy Story franchise. There are also some decent scares from the ventriloquist dummies named Benson and a lot of beautifully animated action while saving Forky. I also appreciated that Gabbby Gabby wasn’t a surprise villain like we’ve gotten so often from Disney lately. Her story was more of a surprise hero, which was really sweet in the end.
But all that fun isn’t going to be enough if Woody is back in the closet at Bonnie’s rarely being played with. That’s no way to end our hero’s story! Just as the toys became a family in Toy Story 3, they, led by Buzz, understand that part of being a family is letting our loved ones follow their dreams. We send our children off to college or on a mission knowing our world’s are never going to be the same but we know it is what is best for them. We send them on their way with a hope and a prayer that they will be ok but we also let them know that everything at home will ‘be ok’. Such is the case with Woody and Buzz.
‘Bonnie will be ok’ Buzz tells Woody. In other words ‘go and have your adventure. Everything at home will be ok. We love you’. So off Woody goes and Buzz and friends stay behind to make sure they keep their promise to Woody. It’s no surprise the toys learn to listen to their inner voice throughout the story because goodbyes are hard (I just had one with my Grandma’s funeral this weekend) and it is only through a lot of practice do we have the spiritual strength to help our loved ones go down their path no matter how badly we will miss them.
A perfect ending to a story that started with our friend only thinking of himself. Well done Pixar. Well done.
For years whenever a superhero movie sequel came out I wondered to myself ‘will they ever make The Incredibles 2?” The 2004 film is not only one of my favorite animated films but is my favorite superhero movie along with Wonder Woman. It so brilliantly weaves together traditional superhero themes with a message of the mundane nature of modern work and the toxicity of pretending to be something you are not. Now in this sequel Brad Bird and his team have managed to combine classic superhero fun with a reminder that when “done properly, parenting is a heroic act.”
Incredibles 2 starts off where the first movie leaves us. Unfortunately, the people have not immediately welcomed back Supers like you might expect. They see carnage and suffering left by Syndrome and look for someone to blame in the Supers. This leaves the Parr family in a tricky dynamic of having a newfound confidence in their powers but living out of a hotel without a way to support each other.
One day a businessman named Winston Deavor approaches them with a seemingly perfect solution. He wants to use Elastigirl as a spokesperson for a movement to bring the supers back out of hiding. This requires Helen to go away from the family but it provides housing, employment and a way to help their family and others be their super selves.
Helen Parr: [to Bob] You know it’s crazy, right? To help my family, I gotta leave it to fix the law, I gotta break it.
Bob Parr: You’ve got to, so our kids can have that choice. (They are both being the best parents to their kids. One has to leave to find work and the other has to deal with the day to day problems).
This is where we get to the real cream of Incredibles 2. Bob must figure out how to solo parent for not only his 3 children but 3 special children including baby Jack Jack who has over 17 powers he can’t control. The scenes with Bob and his kids brilliantly show the exhaustion of parenting especially with an infant. It oddly made me think of the movie Tullyand how exhausted Charlize Theron’s character is when carrying for her new baby.
What separates Bob, however, from a lot of movie Dads is he both struggles and succeeds. For example, Dash has the new math (which is totally a thing), and Bob is overwhelmed but eventually they figure it out. Violet is angry with her Dad and he messes up but then they have a really sweet moment where she tells him he’s doing a super job and let’s him sleep for 17 hours. This made Bob’s story feel human and relatable instead of just mindless slapstick.
The highlight of the film is when Bob takes Jack Jack to meet Edna Mode and she turns out to be a better parent than we might expect. After all it takes a village to raise a child and that is certainly true with Jack Jack!
I also appreciated how Incredibles 2 allowed the kids to be empowered without turning them into mini-adults like other franchises do. Violet and Dash use their powers to help save their parents but only when they have to. They still need their parents for love, guidance and protection. It was very well done.
Some of the elements in Incredibles 2 are pedestrian like the predictable villain but it is surrounded by such engaging fast-paced action, quippy dialogue and striking animation that I didn’t care. Not every part of every movie needs to reinvent the wheel for things to work. Plus, the standard superhero segments still gives us a ton of new characters with fun super powers like Voyd and Brick. Frozone (Lucius) also gets much more screen time and dialogue, which was a delight.
There are other messages hidden inside of Incredibles 2 like our dependence on technology and the way we are pitched glossy showcases of progress without real change being made but my main takeaway was a reminder at how difficult parenting is. How it takes the best out of even superheroes but in the end it is worth it. Loving families and children growing up to be the best version of themselves is worth it. I’m not even a parent but I think that is a fantastic message and something we need to see more in film. So many parents are either shown to be demanding jerks or idiots that this is not as common in film as you might think. Most parents are trying as hard as they can and if they get frustrated by new math or a baby that won’t sleep let’s all try and help them out as much as we can. They are the true superheroes!
Watching the latest Pixar movie is always a treat but sometimes we get a special bonus of a new Pixar short. I loved the latest Incredibles 2 film and will post my review of that sometime this week, but I thought I would talk about the short that played before it: the delightful Bao.
Much has been talked about Bao being the first Pixar short directed by a woman, Domee Shi. While I think that is great, I worry that it may give the appearance of praise based on the sex of the director rather than the actual quality of the short. Shi is not only a trailblazer but did a tremendous job creating a short that is sweet and heartfelt that any parent (or child for that matter) will be able to relate with.
Bao is an allegorical tale about a woman who struggles with her son growing up and misses the love he used to show her. One day she is making dumplings and to her shock one of the dumplings smiles at her and becomes a type of child to her that grows and makes friends. This dumpling boy is adorable.
As Boa Boy grows the Mother must deal with her own feelings of loneliness and ultimate rejection. Of course, this story is an allegory of her struggles with her actual son (who looks hilariously like Bao Boy). But I don’t think you have to be a parent to relate to her feelings. What person hasn’t struggled with change or felt rejected by a loved one? Everyone goes through tough times and the ending with her and her son was pitch-perfect and very truthful.
Plus, if I was Disney I would have a whole Bao themed restaurant in Disneyland because all of the food looked so delicious. I love bao buns with roasted pork and vegetables in them. Yum! I also love the sweet rolls that become a symbol of forgiveness at the end of the short. They are so good!
I don’t think Bao is one of my all time favorite Pixar shorts but it was definitely in the higher portion. I really enjoyed the watercolor-influenced backgrounds, the adorable character design and the score by Toby Chu.
Bao was sweet and lovely short and in many ways reminded me of Sanjay’s Super Teamwith its focus on a parent and child relationship. Both are great, and I hope Disney puts a new volume of Pixar shorts out soon so we can watch all of these more recent entries together.
What did you think of Bao? How does it rank for you amongst all the Pixar shorts?
I know I can hear you guys yelling at your screen ‘finally! She posts her review of Coco!’. It is long overdue, but I wanted to do it right because it is a movie that I loved. In fact, Coco was my favorite movie of 2017, and I saw nearly 150 new releases!
One of the great things that Disney has always done for little kids is help them understand the tough things of life. They have never been a studio that is satisfied to just make kids laugh. They took on themes of death, despair, frustration and anger in movies like Bambi,Dumbo, Lilo and Stitch and more. Pixar has also carried this torch with moving films like Up, Toy Story 3 Inside Out and Finding Nemo. Coco continues this proud tradition by being an important film about forgiveness, family and death. It is honest with children about the struggles of family life while still telling an engaging story with a likable protagonist.
Coco tells the story of a boy named Miguel who wishes to sing more than any thing else. Unfortunately his family is against singing and forbids him from entering a local talent show. On the Dia de los Muertos, Miguel decides to take the guitar from his grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz’s mausoleum to use in the show. This act of theft takes him into the World of the Dead where only his dead relatives can see him. He must get a blessing from a relative in order to return to the living and this is where the majority of our story lies. His dead relatives also hate music and want him to disavow it as part of their blessing. Then Miguel meets a man named Hector who is about to lose his spot in the Land of the Remembered unless his picture is placed on the offrenda.
In some ways Coco is predictable. We know that certain story beats are coming, but I thought they were executed really well and so they still worked for me. For example, when Ernesto proves to not be the person he is praised to be on earth it isn’t surprising but it still works because it feels surprising to Miguel. His response feels so genuine and sweet that it involves you into the story and his journey. I also love the way his relationship with Hector grows in a sweet and authentic way.
One of the things that has always bothered me about Bambi is we have this gut-wrenching scene of Bambi‘s Mother getting shot and then she is never talked about again. This is not a problem with Coco. The whole point of the movie is memories and how memories keep those we love alive in a tangible way. The song Remember Me tells us as much:
Though I have to say goodbye
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart
Though I have to travel far
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
My Grandfather died in 2001 and to this day when I think of him I start to cry. I miss him now as much as I did those many years ago. There was never a person like him in my life and there will never another. When I remember it helps me feel him close by and that our love has power to make my life better.
Honoring and finding out more about our ancestry is something that is also a very important part of my religion so the themes of Coco really rang true for me. Miguel begins to understand this importance as he grows increasingly desperate to save himself and Hector. When he is pleading before Grandma Coco it is one of the most emotional moments I’ve had watching a film in a long time. Please Grandma Coco! Don’t forget!
The artistry in Coco is also phenomenal and I love that they introduced me to a whole new culture. Yes, I have seen The Book of Life but that didn’t feel as immersive in Mexican culture as Coco (partly because it is narrated by a white tour guide…). Everything from the marigold petals to the offrendas was moving, beautiful and interesting.
Fortunately, Coco is also very funny with wonderful skeleton gags that will definitely make you smile along Coco’s cute dog Dante getting into trouble. For people that thought The Good Dinosaur was too drab and Cars 2 was too silly, Coco gets the tone just right making it a joy to watch.
Some of Miguel’s family can be a bit off-putting but I think it is similar to the families in movies like Footloose or Dirty Dancing where they don’t want the children in their lives to grow up and make mistakes. They think they are protecting them when they are actually limiting their joy. This is why Miguel’s victory in the end has added meaning and power. He has come to know for himself who he is and what really matters in life- family, tradition, music and love.
In some ways Coco reminds me of Coraline. Both movies are about young children who must learn to love and forgive their imperfect families and go into a magical world that tempts them to throw off that family. They both must fight for who and what is right (and they are both visually stunning films to boot!). Miguel just like Coraline learns the value of a single human soul and once he understands that he will do anything to save Hector. It’s the connection with the Other that separates us from the animals and this connection continues after death with our memories. This is the message of Coco.
Coco is a triumph in every possible way. The message is beautiful. The animation is stunning. The music is touching. The look at Mexican culture is immersive and wonderful. It’s the last original film we will have from Pixar for a little while, and I am going to treasure it.
We got 2 trailers today for upcoming animated films. They both have their pros and cons so I thought I would talk about them here on the blog and see what your thoughts are.
My Little Pony
The first is for My Little Pony: the Movie. This is of course based on the Friendship is Magic series and is a significant improvement from the first trailer and teaser.
What I like about this trailer is it feels like this film knows what it is and isn’t taking itself too seriously. It has a definite nostalgia vibe to it in the Saturday morning style of the animation, plot, and especially the villain. It’s like everything we love about the show but with a little more sparkles and colors to it. I am sure critics will be tough on it like they were Smurfs: the Lost Village, but I think it looks refreshing and fun. I like that they aren’t going overboard with the girl power and making it something that girls and boys can have fun with.
As far as concerns for the trailer I am a little worried they are focusing on Pinkie Pie too much. She has been a focus of the teaser and both trailers and while I enjoy her she can be a little screechy when over-used. I would much rather them focus on Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash. AppleJack is my favorite of the Mane 6 but she is probably better used for comic relief. I also am not a big fan of the focus on the celebrity voices because this film should really be about the ponies. They are the true celebrity here and I hope that doesn’t get distracting.
I just want this to be a sweet, energetic movie for fans of the show of all types and I feel pretty good about where it is going. What do you think of this trailer and the potential of the film?
The second trailer is for Pixar’s new film Coco. I am naturally excited for any Pixar film but I am starting to have some concerns about this one. Here is the latest trailer:
The strengths of this trailer are two-fold: the animation and the lovely message. We sometimes take Pixar’s amazing animation for granted but we really shouldn’t. I love the way afterworld sparkles with color and light and how likable all the character designs are. You just want to hug Miguel and his dog the moment you see him. I also think the message of the film is great. My religion places a lot of importance on connecting with our ancestors and honoring them so this theme is really lovely and important to explore.
Now for my concerns. I am hoping it is just trailers but both the main trailers for Coco have seemed tonally off. The first one had this strange narration that felt like something from the 90s. It didn’t feel part of a Mexican culture or style (no accent to the narrator) and it was frankly weird. Now here in this trailer they have a story that is focused on music and a character who dreams of playing music. This isn’t a background point but a key part of the story.
With that said, why on earth do they have Bittersweet Symphony playing in the background of the trailer? They have original songs for this movie. Why have we not heard any of them? One of them is written by Kristen Lopez of Frozen fame and we heard it at D23. It’s a good song. Why is that not accompanying this trailer? Why have we heard more music from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure than from Coco?
And if you are going to pick different music why on earth wouldn’t you pick something Mexican! Bittersweet Symphony isn’t even about a guitar player at least Kubo and the 2 Strings using My Guitar Gently Weeps makes a little bit more sense. Bittersweet is about a symphony!! There are no guitars in symphonies. It just makes no sense to me for the images of the trailer or the story and it makes the tone feel weird. Why not use a Ricky Martin song or Shakira or something that felt a little bit relevant to the story!
Why are they hiding the music for Coco? Why aren’t they promoting it more? Make no mistake I think this will be a good film and I’m excited but I feel like Disney is really botching the marketing of this movie. I wish they put a tenth of the marketing in Coco that they put into Beauty and the Beast. There’s no way the music can be worse than that auto-tuned mess. Do kids even know Coco is coming out?
I just don’t get it! Am I nuts on this? What do you think of this trailer and the marketing for Coco?
Vrrmmm Vrrmmm! It’s time to head into the world of Cars- Cars 3 to be more specific. Pixar’s latest animated offering was met with groans and derision from many when it was announced, as the Cars franchise is not the most popular amongst some fans. However, I am not a Cars hater and liked Cars and actually had fun with Cars 2(yes I don’t hate Cars 2 despite its flaws. Deal with it). So I met the arrival of Cars 3 with the normal anticipation of a Pixar sequel- curious to see where it would go and anxious for the ideas of the animators.You will never see me not excited about a Pixar film. It will never happen.
Then we got the trailers and they were fantastic! The teaser promised a new tone and feel to the series but then the actual trailers were more standard and showed a sports movie story in the vein of Rocky 3 and 4. I like sports movies so that was fine with me. A side of me was hoping Cars 3 would be a redeeming movie to the franchise that everyone would love but the response has been about 60/40 praising it. Truth is, if you hated the first two Cars movies then it will not win you over. If you liked the first but hated the second you might like it. If you liked both you will definitely like it. I’m in the latter camp and so I really liked Cars 3. I’ve seen it twice now and if anything I liked it even more on the second watch.
The basic plot of Cars 3 has Lightning reaching the end of his racing career. He’s getting older and new, faster cars are joining the circuit. A new rookie named Jackson Storm proves particularly hard to beat and enjoys taunting Lightning for how old he is. Then one day Lightning gets in a horrible accident and must put himself back together for a comeback.
Most of us have seen the crash in the trailer but it was still very impactful especially in 3D. The racing in Cars 3 felt so real and tactile it was very impressive. To see Lightning fly through the air and come to pieces was pretty upsetting especially with the great score by Randy Newman.
What follows for Lightning is a period of introspection where he thinks a lot about his mentor Doc Hudson who was also forced out of racing by a crash. As someone who has always had mentors and people I looked up to I found these scenes very touching. Plus, you get to hear the late Paul Newman voicing Doc using old interviews and clips. I couldn’t believe they were able to find such perfect dialogue from him to match the scenes. Well done!
Another similar moment that meant something to me is when Lightning goes to Rusteze headquarters for training and finds out that Rusty and Dusty have sold the company to a new owner named Sterling. Rusty and Dusty are voiced by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, who are the voices behind Car Talk on NPR. I’m not a car person but their show brought a lot of joy into my life and Tom has since passed away so it was meaningful to me to hear their voices again in Cars 3. All the voicework across the board was great in Cars 3 but these resurrected voices were especially powerful and touching.
Anyway, they have sold the business and Sterling has set everything up with the highest technology to train Lightning and other racers. He has a trainer named Cruz Ramirez, who was probably my favorite character in the film voiced by Cristela Alonzo. She is bubbly and positive while having a bit of a sarcastic, cynical side to her.
I won’t go into the rest of the plot but they meet Smokey, Doc Hudson’s mentor (Chris Cooper), and Lightning learns what he meant to Doc, and they even end up at a demolition derby!It all builds to a really satisfying conclusion worthy of any sports movie. Chariots of Fire here we come 😉
There are many positives to Cars 3. As I said, the animation is first rate. The racing sequences are amazing, and I loved the way the mud splattered and flowed at the demolition derby. It was perhaps the best mud I’ve seen in a cgi film!
Just like all the Cars movies the soundtrack is also outstanding. We get great covers from Brad Paisley, Lea DeLaria, ZZ Ward, Andra Day and more.
People that hated Cars 2 will also be glad to hear it has been completely forgotten in Cars 3. I didn’t even see any Easter eggs or hints to Cars 2. There is also way less Mater and the few sequences he is in worked well- giving Lightning a friend to talk to when he is struggling with training.
As with all Pixar films, I loved the messaging of Cars 3. First of all, the idea of teaching kids that their elders are still people with emotions and stories to share is a good thing. There is something in current pop culture that often portrays old people as worthy of ridicule or mockery. As silly as it might sound, Lightning’s story may just start a few conversations between families about ageism and listening to your elders- just like Lightning did with Doc and then Lightning does for Cruz.
I also loved Cruz’s story arc. She is presented as a character who is told what she can do because she is different- both female and a minority. “You can be a trainer. You can’t be a racer” is drilled into her and if that happens enough most of us eventually believe it is true. For decades women were told ‘these are the careers you can have’ and that is it.
I particularly found it moving during a pivotal moment where Jackson Storm tells her ‘How long do you think you can play dress-up?”. It reminded me of an old article I love called ‘A Pinch of Reality’ by Lynne Tempest. She talks about the women she knows who feel like imposters in their own lives:
“What if I can’t do it? It’s just a matter of time before they discover I really don’t know what I’m doing’. These were common refrains played over in my mind during my first months as editor. It didn’t’ seem to matter that I had been intimately involved in the production of network for 6 years. I knew it was just a matter of time before they found me out. I was scared. I felt alone:
“Why is it so hard for women to accept their own genius? What are we afraid of? And what does it mean when we don’t allow ourselves to relish in a job well done? By denying our own capabilities, we prevent ourselves from fully enjoying what we’ve worked so hard to achieve. ”
When Cruz is told she’s playing ‘dress up’ it’s another way of saying she’s an imposter and doesn’t belong. Women have been told that for centuries and it can be very limiting. I love the way Lightning and the other characters refuse to allow Cruz to give in to these thoughts and feelings pushing her along. I love that Cruz wasn’t always strong but wavered and needed that encouragement. It’s something many women will be able to relate with. In fact, it is something Cristela Alonzo said she related to with her early days as a comedian and how she was treated as ‘playing dress up’ with the guys.
Anyway, it was a touching moment I really appreciated, but Cars 3 is not without its flaws. There are some sequences of training that drag a little bit and the story is certainly predictable. That doesn’t bother me because I think it is executed well but it will probably bother some. There are also some characters I would like to see more of such as a commenter car Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington) or Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria) over at the demolition derby. They were a lot of fun and if there is a Cars 4 maybe we will see them again?
It also makes no attempts to explain the world of Cars so if you are someone who can’t let that go then it will continue to bother you. My theory on Cars is that it is all in the imagination of Andy from Toy Story. He has a very active imagination and doesn’t necessarily follow the rules of nature when we see his play in Toy Story 1 and 2. If he is playing with his cars he can make them talk, age, live together in their Car world and even become spies. Cars can be anything he wants! Why not?
Cars 3 is probably my favorite of the Cars movies and the more I think about it the more I like it (who would have guessed a Cars movie would give me so much to think about!). Like I said, it won’t win over new fans to the franchise, but I really enjoyed it and think all involved should be commended on a job well done! Congrats!
Overall Grade- B+ (Right now it is still under Captain Underpants for this year but it could keep rising with more viewings).
My friend AJ joined me to podcast about Cars 3 and I think you will enjoy the insight.
I am going to see Cars 3 at least one more time before I write my review but I thought I would go ahead and write my thoughts about the short before it entitled Lou. This was a charming short that teaches a nice message for kids. I really enjoyed it.
The premise for Lou is very clever. Set in a playground at a school, Lou focuses on the lost and found box full of various misplaced items. These items include hoodies, rackets, mitts, baseballs and more. Through some kind of magic all of the items have combined together to make a creature called Lou.
I really liked the look of Lou and the way he flopped around as one cohesive unit while still keeping the individual items separate. It was very creative. He kind of reminded me of a mixture of Telly and Elmo from Sesame Street. His eyes and mouth had the expressions of a Muppet and his body reminded me of how Hank from Finding Dory moved around the room.
Lou kind of takes ownership of the playground and picks up all the lost items after the kids leave. One day a boy named J.J. starts bullying the other kids and taking away their stuff (toys, backpacks etc).
I won’t give away the ending but Lou finds a way to get to the heart of the bully and help him realize what he is doing.
There is also some nice physical comedy between J.J and Lou that I enjoyed. I liked how the balls of Lou’s eyes bulged out when he was thrown about. It was a lot of fun.
Obviously the message of Lou is something many kids will be able to relate with. I certainly would have related to it very strongly. I liked also that they were able to teach J.J. a lesson without overly shaming him. He just sees what is the right thing to do and makes the correct choices.
Lou was directed by Dave Mullins and features the music by Christophe Beck of Frozen fame, which I enjoyed. I particularly liked how bubbly it was as we see Lou explore the playground and what is happening. You can see a little clip here:
It would have been very easy to make Lou a PSA and not a short but I think they straddled that line quite well. It’s funny, balanced and nuanced enough to work as a story, not just a message. Just Lou’s design and expressions are inventive enough to entertain me.
I don’t really have much to criticize about Lou. It’s not my favorite Pixar short but that’s a high bar to cross. This is sweet and a lot of fun with a nice message kids will love.