At the age of ten, in the middle of the summer, a trip to the cinema introduced me to the world of Disney Pixar’s Cars. More than sixteen years later, the Cars franchise is still powering on, and I’m still a fan. This time, to commemorate Disney+ Day, we’ve got Cars On The Road – a nine-episode mini-series written by Steve Purcell and produced by Marc Sondheimer. From the get-go, there’ll be those who will object to the new series, which charts a road trip with Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). There’ll be those arguing the exhausted franchise reached the finish line years ago.
It’s a fair, warranted opinion – but not one I agree with. After the trailer dropped last month, as reported by FlickLuster, the teaser left me feeling joyful and reminiscing about the series. Witnessing Lighting McQueen race onto the silver screen for the first time is a memory that sticks with me. I had all the merchandise and watched the first film endlessly.
More recently, I binged the trilogy again. With each new chapter in the Cars franchise, whatever that may be, from six-minute shorts to full-length feature films, the feeling of childhood glee and nostalgia is always there, and happily, I can say, it’s the same with Cars On The Road. The mini-series has given me the chance to dip in and reconnect with a beloved universe of animated characters established on the silver screen almost twenty years ago. Showing my age now.
As for this review, I had no intention to scrutinise every detail and analyse every beat of each episode. For one, it’d take too long, and plus, I always felt it’d be difficult to criticise a franchise I’ve come to love so much. Instead, this review will highlight what makes Cars On The Road so good. As Mater embarks on a road trip with McQueen to attend his estranged sister’s wedding, the two best buddies will experience a road trip they’ll never forget. In the opening episode, McQueen joins Mater on his road trip, and they make a stop off at Cartaceous Gardens – a car-themed Jurassic Park of sorts.
The episode treats us to a handful of terrible car-related dinosaur puns (Spinocrankshaftorex) and a dream of McQueen and Mater fighting dino cars. From the beginning, the series is beautifully animated, and the infectious chemistry between McQueen and Mater feels as engaging as the vocal performances courtesy of Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy. In later adventures, the two best friends spend a night in a haunted hotel.
In a well-executed parody of Stephen King’s The Shining, McQueen finds himself chased through the halls by a scatting monster truck and dancing with a troop of ghost cars. Mater takes to the Salt Flats of Utah to break speed records, and the two join an eccentric group of creature hunters searching for a legendary Cryptid, later revealed to be a humble monster truck called Ivy.
She attends Circus Velocitas with McQueen and Mater, wherein the number 95 race car reveals a phobia for clown cars, and in another episode, tries his hand (or wheel?) at acting on a horror movie set. However, he’s just not that good. Best to stick to racing. There’s even a musical number dedicated to Mater’s love of trucks as they make a pit stop at a depot. Cars On The Road parodies Mad Max: Fury Road, arguably one of, if not the best car-themed action films made in recent memory. The episode, titled “Road Rumblers,” pits two warring vehicular clans against one another as McQueen and Mater get caught in the chaos.
The story illustrates the importance of friendship and reconciliation – since McQueen and Mater have come to odds at becoming lost on the road. The finale features the only cameo in the series, as Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), from Cars 3, arrives for the wedding. Her cousin is marrying Mater’s sister Mato. Mato makes a throwback reference to a scene from Cars in which Mater introduces himself to McQueen as “Tow Mater, but without the Tow”. It’s the same joke, tweaked with the word Tomato, but it pays off well – and it’s a nice callback to the original film. Mater and Mato become super competitive in the build-up to the wedding but reconcile their differences courtesy of therapy sessions from Ramirez. She has many hidden talents, apparently.
If you’ve ever watched any of the short films attached to the extras from the Cars feature films, which include the likes of Tokyo Mater, Spinning, and Mater and the Ghost Light, then expect nine mini-shorts of the same variety from Cars On The Road. The series will be perfect for you. As for what’s next, this remains unclear. The show steers away from setting up a future film or a second series, but there’d be no objections from me if another raced onto Disney+ in the future. Cars On The Road is short, sweet, animated fun for all the family – and much like myself – anyone of any age can enjoy and appreciate them.