Dark Cars: The ‘Cars 3’ Teaser and Its Unexpected Reception

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I’m seeing it all over social media…

“Wow, Cars took a dark turn…”

“Lightning McQueen died?”

It’s no joke, though. The Cars 3 teaser is unlike many of Pixar’s previous teasers, and in terms of the lighting and the aesthetic, the film looks unlike any previous Pixar film. Gone are the vibrant colors of the first two films, this thing is freakishly close to live-action. I’m also going to assume that this footage is indeed from the movie, and not footage made special for a teaser. The mood I’m getting is gritty, almost video game-like. You can also compare to it several recent Hollywood action movies, particularly of the Christopher Nolan variety.

There is no humor to be seen here, no fun little moments. We start with a loud race, we barely see the characters’ faces… Then we hear an announcer talk about McQueen “fading fast”… Then a very dramatic, slowed down crash. Lightning McQueen is all banged up, flipping over in mid-air. The trailer just ends there, with a rather cold “From this moment, everything will change” tag.

Cars 3, as previously reported, is going to be about Lightning McQueen – 10 years into his career – on the brink of being outmoded by all the new, supercharged rookie competitors. He seeks the help of a supercar named Cruz Ramirez, who looks to teach the old(er) car new tricks. It’s a full-on sports movie, more so than the first two Cars films. While there is sure to be plenty of humor and lots of fun in the released movie, the teaser makes the film seem like it will be a completely different endeavor altogether.

Cars, unlike most Pixar properties, is usually looked down upon. Cars has never been an all-time favorite, the first movie was met with positive reviews, but many of the reviews echoed a similar sentiment: “It’s a good film, but it’s not great like the other Pixar films.” Numerous comparisons were made to some Michael J. Fox film from years back, others questioned the world it takes place in, others found the characters to be stereotypes at best. Rotten Tomatoes had it in the mid-70s range, a far cry from the usual 90-and-up scores that Pixar’s films had gotten up until that point.

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The first Cars is admittedly lightweight, though that doesn’t make it bad or lesser in my humble opinion. The execution of the story matters much more to me, and I felt they did a fine job with the film. John Lasseter is a car nut through and through. In the late 1990s, he was busting his back at Pixar, having to salvage a disastrous Toy Story 2 less in mere months before its fall 1999 debut. That was right after directing and going on tour to promote A Bug’s Life. The guy was overworked, and he realized that his children were growing up fast… He went on a road trip with his family, one that took him, his wife, and his children to the lost and forgotten towns off of Route 66. During their extended stay together, Lasseter had reconnected with his family again. While a film about talking cars was being planned long before the release of A Bug’s Life, the project really took off after Lasseter returned from his trip. It’s a very personal film for him, and then some.

Understandably, the anthropomorphic autos tale won’t connect with everybody. While Pixar’s previous films were pretty universal, Cars in many ways is not. Overtly American it can be, Cars is about car culture, something that certainly doesn’t gel with good chunks of folk out there. Some can’t even get past the fact that they’re talking cars. Big, metallic, wheeled machines. Not quite cuddly! I guess animals and creatures are perhaps more relatable for some. The bulk of the film taking place in a “boring” desert? Where’s the high-stakes adventure? Cars‘ storyline is not the dizzying, ambitious likes of Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles. It’s more A Bug’s Life than it is Toy Story. Prior to the release of Cars, the Internet had always declared that A Bug’s Life was the weak link in Pixar’s strong chain. This took its place.

What else doesn’t help? The fact that Cars was followed up by three films – RatatouilleWALL-E, and Up – that fit most people’s definition of what a Pixar film “should” be, and to top it off, an excellent rare three-quel – Toy Story 3 – came right off of this trio of films. By 2010, you usually heard people say “Pixar’s great, ‘cept Cars!” It was always “Except Cars!”, as if Cars was the Ugly Duckling of Pixar’s library. The stumble, the trip-up, the mistake. Even The Simpsons made a joke about this! If one had never seen Cars, they’d assume it was the very Pixar film to avoid.

That being said, Cars had enough defenders on its side, and was one divisive entry in a real winning streak. This made Cars 2 all the more contemptible for a good many when it arrived on the scene in 2011. The Internet unleashed hell upon the messy sequel, but a lot of fans of the first film were left cold as well. Cars 2, for many admirers of the first film, ignored the charms of movie number one and felt like it was trying to be what it should not be. It seemed like very few people enjoyed it. Me? All I saw was a silly spy blockbuster that just happened to star talking cars. I had issues with it, yes. It is, to me, the weakest of Pixar’s films… But it’s far from horrible, and I can’t say it’s mediocre either… Just rushed and in need of lots of fine-tuning. Knowing what went on behind-the-scenes, I’m surprised it’s even watchable.

So Cars 2 sunk the reputation of the series, DisneyToon’s theatrically-released Planes follow-ups didn’t help one bit. Very few people were pleased when a third Cars was announced. By now, Cars has a rather toxic reputation amongst Internet folk. Cars is also called the “kiddier” Pixar series, one that just won’t ever be good enough for an audience over the age of 12. I don’t know, I loved the first film a lot, and I found the second one to be a fun little romp. The various short films are cute. Of course, different people have their ideas of what makes an animated film “more kiddie”. If a simpler story, lack of edgy jokes, less violence, less weighty drama, and lightheartedness automatically equals “more kiddie”, then count me out.

Cars 3‘s teaser trailer is a massive shock to everyone who sees the Cars series as innocuous, fluffy fare. “Lightning McQueen died…”

But did they watch the other two films? Look at The King’s crash in the first movie…

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Though we never see it, Doc Hudson had a similarly bad accident back in the 1950s…

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Lots of cars get wrecked up in the opening race, including this fellow who – during that scene – thinks he can still compete!

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Cars 2, supposedly a Pixar film that’s more for the tykes than us adults, is rife with car-on-car violence. It’s still mind-boggling that the movie got a G rating, in a world where animated family movies normally get PG ratings for minuscule, harmless things. The very first car we see in the movie is smashed into a cube by the villains, another baddie falls many feet into the ocean, collapsing into pieces! A battleship is blown to smithereens, several enemy cars are blown up on the oil rig at the beginning… Oh, and let’s not forgot poor Rod “Torque” Redline, who is injected with dangerous fuel that goes ka-boom when subjected to electromagnetic pulse!

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For kids, alright.

Lasseter himself actually talked about the violence in Cars 2 when footage of it was previewed months before its release, he mentioned during that time that it was necessary to incorporate danger and action violence into the story. Give Pixar credit, they may have made a family-friendly spy movie, but they didn’t quite pull back from some harsher stuff. If Cars 2 were truly a kids-only film, or a “more for kids” film, then it wouldn’t have had these scenes. Some argue that it should not have been violent like that.

This all made the reaction to the Cars 3 teaser all the more confusing to me. I understand that the first thing one might think of when Cars is brought up is a happy jolly Mater or the tranquility of Radiator Springs, but having seen both films multiple times, I know it’s more than just that, which is why McQueen’s mid-race wreck wasn’t a real shock to me. If anything, it’s fitting – he’s following in the footsteps, erm tire tracks of Doc Hudson. Lasseter said that Doc Hudson will be a big focus this time.

What is a shock, however, is the tone the teaser itself takes on. Perhaps that is what is surprising people, not so much the wreck itself. Like I said before, we’re used to Pixar teasers being a cute skit or something.

Recently, we’ve seen Pixar go against the grain. What was in the teaser for Brave? Scenery of rural medieval Scotland. There was a Scottish narrator, establishing the setting. It was far from humorous or lighthearted, it was more ominous than anything. No dialogue, just Merida riding through the woods. The trailer ends where Mor’du, the demon bear, shows up. It just ends there… It got people intrigued. Like all of Pixar’s post-1998 teasers, the spot was composed of special footage that didn’t show up in the movie.

The Good Dinosaur‘s teaser is similar in ways. It shows the film’s opening sequence, where the asteroid misses Earth. The second half of the unusual teaser is a dialogue-less montage of various scenes from the film. Footage from the film itself was the whole teaser… That was a first for Pixar in a post-Toy Story world.

Finding Dory went back to the “funny” teaser. Monsters University and Inside Out did the funny teaser thing as well, perhaps this made Cars 3 a little jarring.

I’m glad the marketing department opted to make a new Pixar film look like something that’s a little rougher. I don’t dislike previous Pixar teasers, but they’ve had their needle stuck for a long time, so it was cool to see Cars 3 shake things up a bit. I was impressed, but not shocked inside and out. McQueen will be just fine, but it was a little upsetting to see him get in a bad wreck.

I actually think that Pixar is well aware of how Cars is looked at by the Internet. They’ve hinted at it several times. Inside Out‘s teaser begins with a montage of Pixar’s films, Cars 2 is nowhere to be seen. Second, look at this chart below…

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If you’re no stranger to the Internet, you’ll know that a chunk of the Pixar fandom can;t stand Cars. This same chunk feels that The Incredibles is the only Pixar film that *deserves* a sequel… Well, look at Anger’s placement here. 2011. The year Cars 2 came out. I think this chart is a subtle jab at people who whine about Cars, but constantly scream about The Incredibles needing a sequel.

There are other little things that Pixar has posted from time to time on their social media accounts that lead me to believe that yes, they get it, they done goofed with Cars 2. The Internet of course can’t handle a little trip-up, it had to be known that Cars 2 is the devil. To the point where Pixar is aware of it.

So with all that said, I think the teaser being serious like this was quite deliberate.

In other news, I’m really looking forward to Cars 3. I’ve been interested since the moment they said it would be like the first film, but with each passing announcement, I got a little more excited. Now with this trailer out, I’m there. Opening weekend. Knock me out again, Pixar.

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