When it comes to delivering an animated film with heart, great messages and full of fun, Pixar has long reigned as King. That being said, I’ve never been a big fan of the CARS franchise, but thought the first one was fun, rewatchable and my nephews were pretty hooked on it. The newest addition to the franchise, Cars 3, is less Pixar like and more like an attempt to gently ease middle America into acceptance, female empowerment and diversity, but just as long as it happens on the male lead’s terms. SIGH.
Lightening McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has been a racing star for over a decade now and he has it pretty made. His competitors are his friends, who joke on the raceway with him, and the audience adores him. However, all that is about to change as Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) and a crop of flashier, smoother, and faster rookies begin to take over, leaving McQueen and his crew in the dust. After a devastating crash, McQueen is bought by a new sponsor, the sleek and super rich, Sterling (Nathan Fillion) who tries to convince him to move on from racing and welcome the next stage of his career- sponsorships and branding. Not ready to give up the racing life, McQueen makes a deal with Sterling that he will get back to top form, with the help of an enthusiastic trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) and win the next race, if he loses, he will willingly retire and become a the face of Sterling’s brands. Sterling agrees and immediately has him meet with Cruz to get started. But, McQueen is set in his ways and despite all her best efforts, McQueen wants to do it his way, which leads to a confrontation, a demolition derby and the will he-won’t he at the final race.
First off, I have to give props to the casting choices in this film. Not only are major characters voiced by women (Alonzo), but the cast is so uniquely diverse, in every sense of the word, it brings a tear to my eye. Also, it has some very fun moments that I couldn’t help but laugh at. Oh, and my 6 year old nephew enjoyed it (though it didn’t break his top 5).
BUT, and this is a big BUT, it tried to tell a story of female empowerment through the perspective of the male lens, which is to say, it’s a watered down empowerment story. This isn’t to say men can’t write proper female empowerment stories, think Mad Max: Fury Road, Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast, etc…But, in the treatment of Cruz Ramirez, it seems like the writers weren’t fully ready to go full girl power. For example: Cruz is a very skilled trainer, one who could, in fact, run circles around McQueen, yet, he consistently refuses her advice and instead, makes her feel unsure of her methods and skills. She has moments of anger, but is quickly “put in her place” by her boss, or McQueen, and isn’t allowed to shine in her glory moments, or at least not for long. She is only allowed to have something if a male allows her to have it, this includes confidence, acknowledging her skills, and even, chances to speak up for herself. Ladies, this is not what girl power is. Even the treatment of a smaller character, like Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington), is given a stereotype of what a smart, successful female acts like- unfriendly, curt, and without humor. There were many moments where I wanted to scream at the screen- “THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS” but settled for rolling my eyes and quiet sighs of disappointment.
In an age where we are demanding more stories to tell our kids of equality, empowerment and diversity, Cars 3 could have led the charge and given a powerful, yet entertaining story for all to embrace, instead, it chose to mansplain girl power. Thanks, but no thanks Pixar.