Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for “Cars 3.”
“Cars 3” is in theaters this weekend, and if you head out to the see Pixar’s latest you’ll get plenty of flashbacks to a familiar face.
As Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) comes to terms with his inevitable retirement from racing, we see multiple flashbacks and references to his old mentor Doc Hudson in the film who was quietly killed off screen in between “Cars” and it’s 2011 sequel.
While it’s nostalgic to see a tribute to the late Paul Newman who died in 2008, his appearances in the movie become overshadowed by one question the film frustratingly fails to answer: What exactly happened to Doc?
2011’s “Cars 2” glosses over Doc’s death. There’s a small moment between McQueen and his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) in which the death is briefly acknowledged, but zero details were given about what occurred. The “d” word wasn’t even used. The assumption was that Hudson died at some point offscreen between “Cars” and its 2011 sequel.
With so many sequences featuring Hudson in “Cars 3,” it seemed like the film was building up to a flashback sequence showcasing how the character died. It was a question that popped into my head every time he appeared on screen.
But 109 minutes came and went without any answer.
Instead I was left with so many questions. Was it a really tragic death? Did Doc die of old age? If it was the latter, why haven’t we heard of other older vehicles dying of old age in the “Cars” universe? At one point, McQueen visits Doc’s old stomping grounds in “Cars 3” and finds all of his racing buddies alive and well. It would have been slightly more believable if some of them had passed on to this supposed Cars heaven as well.
It’s even stranger that the film doesn’t say the words “Doc died” or directly refer to Doc ever passing away. The sequel just awkwardly tip toes around its biggest mystery without ever fully embracing it. Old newspaper clippings of Doc in his glory days are shown along with reused footage of him from 2006’s “Cars.”
It incredibly frustrating the movie doesn’t fully own its Doc Hudson story when much of the film is meant to be an entire tribute to Newman and his character. What’s worse is that the film puts the job on parents to have that inevitable awkward conversation when a kid too young to remember 2006 or 2011’s “Cars” films asks, “Mommy, what happened to Doc?”
It’s slightly more frustrating when you know that an early draft of “Cars 3” included Hudson’s death. Creative director of the “Cars” universe Jay Ward told ScreenCrush it was “a really tender moment where McQueen’s driving and Doc’s following him and it’s like the day your mentor passes away.“
Ward said the scene ended up on the cutting room floor because it was “just depressing.”
Depressing? Have you ever watched the first 10 or so minutes of “Up”? In a dialogue-free montage, the audience watches two youngsters meet, fall in love, get married, find out they have a miscarriage, grow old together, and then have the wife pass away.
Do I cry every time I watch it? You bet. And while it’s incredibly sad, the scene succeeds because it captures a real life scenario and it does so beautifully through images on screen. According to the Los Angeles Times, filmmakers grappled with whether or not to include the miscarriage in the final film.
It feels like Pixar missed a huge opportunity and learning moment in “Cars 3” which may have given more emotional depth to a movie which, while fine, feels like it plays it safe with a straight-forward and predictable storyline about McQueen transitioning into a mentor role himself.
Perhaps if Pixar hadn’t shied away from Doc’s death, “Cars 3” would have had a fighting chance at living up to the original movie.
SEE ALSO: Our review of “Cars 3”
DON’T MISS: There’s an end-credits scene after “Cars 3”