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Disney+ Review: Cars on the Road

September 7, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Cars on the Road, which premieres on Disney+ tomorrow as part of their annual Disney+ Day programming, is a short episodic series from Pixar Animation Studios that finds trusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) reuniting for a road trip.

The series begins in Radiator Springs, with Matar getting invited to his sister’s wedding (the audience’s surprise at Matar having a sister is mirrored by the reactions of the other residents). Matar never talked about her due to a long-held rivalry, but feels obliged to make the cross-country drive to her wedding back east, and his buddy McQueen offers to go along with him for the ride.

And that’s basically the plot of the entire show, which serves as a spinoff from the three films. The series plays more like a collection of nine loosely connected shorts, and at times feels like it forgets its main storyline between episodes. The wedding simply serves as a plot device for Cars on the Road to send Lightning and Mater on a series of pitstops, most of which are genial and kind of amusing, but also somewhat random when taken as a whole.

It unfolds as a classic road trip narrative that takes multiple detours, as they visit car versions of different landmarks and get caught up in several side adventures. This allows the various nine episodes (all under ten minutes each) to play around with different genres, from a whacky tribute to The Shining when they stop for the night in a creepy old car hotel, to a big musical number involving trucks. In one episode, Lightning and Matar stumble onto a film set. In another, they get tangled up with some bigfoot chasers. There’s a couple of new characters for them to interact with, including a monster truck named Ivy (Quinta Brunson), and some familiar old ones.

In some ways, this feels more like a follow up to the Mater-centric Cars 2 after the slight pivot of the third film, with Cars on the Road embracing some of the more gonzo elements of this vehicular world (“what’s CGI?” Mater asks McQueen in one of the show’s most winkingly meta moments). Those who have spent years trying to wrap their heads around the inner workings of the Cars universe will be left with even more questions from this series (like the idea that metal dinosaurs existed at one point in this world, or the prospect of car souls that can leave their metal bodies, for example), so it’s best not to think about it too deeply.

Written by Steve Purcell, who also directed three of the episodes and splits directing duties evenly on the series with Brian Fee and Bobby Podesta, Cars on the Road is colourfully animated and moves at a fast enough pace to mostly overlook its shortcomings. The series lacks some continuity and narrative cohesion between episodes, meaning that it doesn’t always gel as a whole, but several of the individual pieces are amusing enough on their own. It’s fairly enjoyable if you like the characters, and the whole thing makes for a breezy, roughly 75 minute watch.

Cars on the Road will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ as of September 8th.

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