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Feature FilmPixar

Some Thoughts On The New ‘Cars 3’ Trailer

The Cars franchise might mark the nadir of Pixar as a creative enterprise, but graphically, the company still has some surprises up its sleeves, as evidenced by the new Cars 3 trailer released today:

Pixar has been steadily creeping toward a photoreal approach, most recently seen in projects like Piper and The Good Dinosaur. Not necessarily the studio’s character animation, which is still recognizably cartoon, but environments and atmosphere have pushed realism further than most other studios.

The contrast between cartoon and naturalism works to powerful effect in this trailer. The muted palette of the environments allows the cars in front to ‘pop’ (see images below), creating a different effect from earlier Cars films where the natural environments felt as artificial as the cars. Much has been made of the more serious emotional tone of this latest installment, but what hasn’t been discussed is how the shift toward naturalism in the graphics plays a role in heightening the emotions.


Everything visually in this trailer is peak cg craftmanship: the atmospheric effects, lighting, realistic use of camera. There are moments where it really feels like we’re watching cartoon characters placed into our world — and ultimately, I assume, the goal is to make an entire film that achieves such an effect. There’s some particularly impressive racing shots towards the end of this trailer where the cars are drifting in and out of the shadows, and I don’t recall another fully-animated film that’s used this kind of lighting in a fast-moving action scene.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the technical accomplishments of this film in the coming months. Disney and Pixar will Cars 3 in U.S. theaters on June 16. The film is directed by Brian Fee (a board artist on the first two Cars movies).

  • Andres Molina

    To be perfectly honest, I’m actually really excited and hopeful for this film. I always considered Cars 1 to an underrated gem, at least in my opinion and the second one, well, its not the worst film ever made like some people make it out to be, but yeah, I can tell why many people didn’t like the second. But you know what, as someone who tries to see the best in Pixar films, I truly believe, by heart, that Pixar is putting effort into this film, and ending their most controversial franchise with a bang.

    Let me tell you something. This whole Cars thing and how they compare to other Pixar films is rather bizarre for me. I might be crazy but when the first Cars came out, I remember people (adults too) calling Cars a classic, a great film, but somehow after Cars 2, the same people are now somehow calling the first film underwhelming disappointment, and some of them outfighting disliking if not hating. I understand people going bonkers over Cars 2 being pixar’s first critical flop, but some people go as far as to call Pixar completely corrupt, forgetting and brushing off 20 years of history and judging them based on that first film. And since then, for the last few years, Pixar has been getting controversy over their supposed “dark age”, and again, some people go as far as to say that Pixar’s golden age is over, and that they will never be masterful or A-level ever again, and claiming that their lineup of sequels mean they’re creatively bankrupt for life. Some of you may think I’m being over dramatic, but there are actually people like this.

    Well let me tell you something, Pixar is experiencing a dark age, yes, but that doesn’t mean they will never be great again, its just that they’re experiencing a time where they have lost some of their magic, but knowing all the wonderful, masterful films they created, I know they will at one point bounce back, and they will soon experience a new golden age, filled with films that honor decades of history, but in a new, fresh and unique way. Take Apple for example, they experienced a dark age throughout the late 80’s to the mid 90’s and then the late 90’s came and they experienced their own golden age. Pixar is experiencing a cycle that many companies have faced and they will find a way, or, at least, I really want to believe that they will.

    And what also drives me nuts is how some people make comparisons to Pixar with Walt Disney Animation Studios, and how Disney is now somehow more original than Pixar. So let me analyze. The next four films (2017-2019) from Pixar are 3 sequels and one original. But things are a little different now, or things will be different in the future. Well first let me analyze.

    Now someone made a comparison back in 2015 between both studios, and here was the original lineup from D23 2015:
    WDAS: 2016-2018 (Based on August 2015 schedule)
    -Zootopia (March 2016) Original
    -Moana (November 2016) Original
    -Gigantic (November 2018) Adaptation

    Pixar (Based on August 2015 schedule):
    The Good Dinosaur (November 2015) original
    Finding Dory ( June 2016)- Sequel
    Toy Story 4 (June 2017, now moved to June 2019) Sequel
    Coco (November 2017) Original
    Cars 3 ( June 2018, now June 2017) Sequel
    The Incredibles 2 (June 2019, now June 2018) Sequel

    Based on that August 2015 announcement, yeah, many people can make assumptions that WDAS was taking more risks, but now, we reach April 2017, and lots have changed. Now here is the new lineup for both studios as of April 2017

    WDAS(as of April 2017):
    Wreck it Ralph 2 (November 2018)- Sequel
    Frozen 2 (November 2019) Sequel
    Gigantic (November 2020)- Adaptation
    Untitled WDAS project (November 2021)- TBA
    -Potential Zootopia sequel.
    -Potential Big Hero 6 sequel.

    Pixar(as of April 2017):
    Cars 3(June 2017)- Sequel
    Coco (November 2017)- Original
    The Incredibles 2 (June 2018) Sequel
    Toy Story 4 (June 2019)- Sequel
    Untitled Pixar film (March 2020)- Original
    Untitled Pixar film (June 2020)- Original
    -2 untitled original films 2021 and beyond

    The tables have now turned a bit, WDAS is now slightly leaning towards sequels, while pixar has announced they would focus entirely and only on fully original ideas starting on 2020. I’m not sure about the Zootopia or Big Hero 6 sequel, but they’re in the pile of possible productions. As i want to say, these 2 studios are going through cycles, and things might be different in 2021 or so. I know i’m probably rambling and going all crazy and talking too much, but this is something I want to address, whether people want to hear it or not. But as far as Cars 3 is concerned, heres hoping the film can surprise people, and be a sequel, with meaning, substance, and a film, worthy of praise.

    • Mesterius

      “…pixar has announced they would focus entirely and only on fully original ideas starting on 2020”

      Show me where they said that they will focus ONLY on original ideas from 2020 onwards. I honestly can’t believe they have made such a statement. From what I have seen, they have simply said they will focus *more* on original ideas than they have during the past few years.

      • Andres Molina
        • Mesterius

          That article is not saying that they will only make original films from 2020 onwards. It’s saying that no more Pixar sequels are *currently* in development for 2020 and onwards. “Currently”, not “for all time”.

          The article goes on to say that “…it’s been Pixar’s plan all along to make an original every year and a sequel every other year”; i.e. three films every two years. What they are intending to do from 2020 onwards is to find a better *balance* between original films and sequels (as opposed to the very sequel-heavy decade that the 2010s have turned out to be). They have no plans to end the production of sequels. In fact, scroll a little further down, and you’ll se this…

          “As for if we’ll ever get sequels to Inside Out, Up, WALL-E or Ratatouille, Morris maintains that“anything’s possible” but insists they are a filmmaker-driven studio and those filmmakers are currently busy on other projects.”

          Anything is possible — even including sequels to those three films. As spoken by Pixar president Jim Morris himself.

    • First, interesting points on Pixar and their recent status in comparison to when they were continuing to knock things out of the ballpark.

      To respond to some of your points, I don’t think Pixar is in the dark ages per se, but they have become complacent or probably tired of continuing to be innovative storytellers. Cars 2 showed that (it was an ok film, I felt it had more story problems in the film than its predecessor).

      You mentioned about Apple and how it had its dark days before reaching its success later, and to take it further, both companies (Pixar and Apple) were meant to be about innovation and changing the world, due to Steve Jobs’ drive and demands. He would not settle for something half baked, or an idea that would not be the strongest possible, and he brought that culture to Pixar before Pixar did feature films. Since his passing, both companies (yes both), have been doing the best they can, but I do feel his absence has allowed the companies to not be as pushed as they were before his passing (Tim Cook’s leadership has not improved Apple’s innovation over the years as an example). I think that has led Pixar to do some sequels that felt questionable (I still didn’t think Monsters University was necessary or Toy Story 4), with also the idea the sequels could further finance more original ideas (even though Pixar has not been in the red with their financial standing, as far as I know).

      I think what has become another problem for Pixar is preparing for the future of storytellers, and to keep the culture and results consistent. We are seeing a few more new players as directors for Pixar, but it is still a tight and hard course to be in the director’s seat, especially when the original players are still there and have the backing that their efforts would make it to the debut without being released from the project (like Brenda Chapman and Bob Peterson on their debut films). At some point, there has to be a transition, and it has to make it strong so that Pixar’s legacy can continue to grow and not diminish.

      Pixar will continue to have an audience and the backing of their projects, as they have earned it from their previous ventures. I don’t see them losing the support any time soon – I do feel though that their push for risky and innovative storytelling has taken a backseat in the last few films. I do hope they return to that mindset moving from after they have enjoyed creating franchises and sequels.

    • Roca

      I also liked Cars 1, it had a lot of heart and solid storytelling, likable characters. The hate directed towards it is shallow and class-based, since the main subject is stock-car racing and small-town Americana. It’s a good, no, great film. The second one (and unfortunately Planes 1 and 2) did come off as a blatant cash-grab for international dollars. The trailer indicates we might be getting back to the heart of the story, but I’ll reserve judgement.

      • Barrett

        Cars 1 is a solid-if-derivative film that is polarizing mainly because the main character is pretty unlikable (even at the end of his arc) to a lot of people, and the main sidekick is very annoying, like “Jar Jar-level annoying”, to a fair number of people. I actually like Mater in small doses even though I am not a Larry the Cable Guy fan, and I also found Paul Newman’s character to be poignant and well-handled.

        I also think the extreme merch push associated with the film, a push that has never really ceased for a decade now, annoys animation purists and people who enjoy the more “art-house” side of Pixar. People also have bad feelings about major toy tie-ins because many feel the reason the Star Wars franchise went down the tubes with the prequels was because Lucas had become so enamored with merchandizing that by the time he wrote and directed the prequels, it had tainted his creative decisionmaking, skewing it away from good storytelling and character development, and toward making everything “toyetic.” They are wary of any beloved studio or director falling into the same trap.

        I liked Cars 2 Ok for what it was (spy parody with cars in place of humanoids) but I certainly wasn’t looking forward to any further stories in that universe. However, I’ll withhold judgment until I see the final film.

        • Roca

          I can see your point about the merchandising. I still loved the first film. Mater was annoying but for me did not detract from the nostalgia.

  • Is this movie…

    Is this movie supposed to be directly symbolic of Pixar and what happened to them as a result of Cars 2? Heavy emphasis on licensing and marketing (Cars 2), followed by a massive failure besmirching his once grand reputation? (again, Cars 2)
    Anyway, Pixar has done some pretty impressive stuff in their recent history…The Good Dinosaur and Piper were both great examples of how to mix cartoony visuals with photorealism. (even if The Good Dinosaur had an incredibly weak story) I especially liked how the water in Piper was slightly caricatured.

  • Woah. Well. I’m keen to give this a watch. I think Cars has been my least-favourite Pixar ‘franchise’, but, this looks like it’s hitting the mark. I’m invested!

  • Thalesourus

    Most importantly, will the 3rd sequel continue to appeal to the male demographic it has been aimed at and bring home a big profit for Mr. Iger et al? The realistic backgrounds and darker story line can be interpreted in reality space as designed to appeal to ticket buyers who were young fans when the series started but now need a more mature take.

    • Barrett

      I think that’s a good read – the “target demographic” for the first Cars was (in reality, if not “officially”) kids between 5 and 12, with an emphasis on boys. It was enjoyable for many people outside of that age range, but the people who went gaga for it were little boys. Those kids are now between 16-23, and are in the prime years for a more “realistic” and “cynical” take on things. A hardship story where their hero falls from grace and “loses everything” etc. is something that will surely appeal for people who grew up with Cars as kids. Also, it’s not as if the original film didn’t have an undercurrent of decline, loss and sadness to it. Cars may be a candy-colored and jokey franchise, but it can also include some real emotional notes, just not on the same level as Up or Ratatouille.

  • Doconnor

    The first time I saw the first trailer I didn’t believe it was CGI until half way through, even though it was specifically introduced as the Cars 3 trailer.

  • khadijah johnson

    The backgrounds look so realistic that I feel I’m looking at a photograph… Still not
    watching the movie, though.

    • Hankenshift

      I agree. How sad. At least its better and the characters fit better than that mess good dinosaur. Those characters looked like leftover flintstones and the lighting and backgrounds looked like leftover thomas kinkaid imitating a bad nature photo.

  • Michel Van

    Cars 3 is just retake of first Cars movie
    Just the role inverse this time the hero is now the aging veteran…

  • I’m willing to give Cars 3 a shot – I just wished the care and appeal for the characters were stronger for this franchise (Cars 2 hindered that a bit). For what we’re seeing with what might happened in Cars 3, and what will happened, it is intriguing – I just wished it was more consistent through this franchise like Toy Story.

  • Marie

    I watched the preview without sound (I’m at work) and I’m completely unfamiliar with the series but I found it compelling. Even without the sound, I could feel the protagonist’s situation. And visually I’m especially liking the use of the camera. Out of curiosity, I may actually make this the first Cars movie I watch (on Netflix.)

  • rodso64

    When I first saw footage of Zootopia on a big screen two years ago (at the D23 Expo), I gasped out loud. I had NEVER, in all my born days, seen outdoor sunlight rendered like that. The fact that now Pixar is upping the ante that much more makes perfect sense.

    • Barrett

      I loved Zootopia and thought in almost every way it was a perfect film. One reason for that was, even though the modeling, rendering and lighting were all incredibly detailed, it still felt like a slightly cartoon/fantasy world. This isn’t due to any shortcoming by the artists or techs, to the contrary, it was deliberate design decisions by the creative team. It makes it so the semi-realistic cartoon animals live in a semi-realistic world that matches them.

      That USED to be the case with Pixar, but I would say that starting around the time of Brave they moved away from making the outdoor and built environments stylized, and moved more and more toward absolute realism. That’s a terrible thing to mix with cartoony characters, because it creates a strange contrast. That was one of my big problems with The Good Dinosaur – the environment was too real for those creatures.

      For Cars, I am a little more willing to forgive it, since the initial Cars world was pretty realistic, but even then they had things like plants and land formations that mimicked cars and auto parts. I hope they keep that going in this film, but in many shots it looks disturbingly like living cars are driving around in the real world. That could be a cool idea, but it’s not really what Cars 1 and 2 looked and felt like. At least we can be sure that Incredibles 2 will surely include “pushed” designs for all the props and environments!

  • Bob

    I’m not really into the cars franchise, but the lighting here is amazing. The set designs, from what is shown here, look like they belong in the world of a game cinematic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do miss some of the design language… photo real seems to be becoming a house style for Pixar. Unlike some other people I don’t think it worked so well for good dinosaur. The characters and environments seemed to not match at all. I guess this works somewhat better because cars are hard surface and lend themselves to this look…