If you’re reading this, then Cars isn’t for you.
Every Pixar movie is ostensibly for children, but that’s especially true for the kid-friendly Cars and Cars 2, which are generally considered to be two of the studio’s weaker films. Yet they’ve earned well over $1 billion at the box office and hundreds of millions more in toys and backpacks and underwear and basically every product imaginable. The Cars movies are The Phantom Menace, if The Phantom Menace was just the pod race — they’re CGI style over substance, which is why the depressing teaser trailer for Cars 3 is a shock.
Pixar CCO John Lasseter promised that Cars 3 is a “very emotional story,” with a character-based focus on Lightning McQueen’s relationship with Doc Hudson, but I’m not sure anyone expected that to mean hotshot Lightning gets into a fiery wreck in the middle of a race, with debris flying all over the track. Pixar’s typical cartoon-bright colors are also muted and severe, and the tagline is downright ominous: “From this moment, everything will change.” This is a very different Cars than Larry the Cable Guy making funny noises.
Based on the teaser, Lasseter wants to have it both ways: to keep children entertained with silly jokes and loud noises, and to earn the respect of adults who didn’t bother seeing Cars 2. If any studio can pull it off, it’s Pixar.