SPOILERS FOR CARS ON THE ROAD. READ AT YOUR OWN WILL!
Over the past few years, the Cars franchise has left a mixed bag as its contents from the humble racer story of the first film to the spy thriller international tour in Cars 2 to even a spin-off set in the skies, Planes. However, there’s one thing that kept this franchise going: its commitment to experimenting with the world of Cars and see where the property could be headed. With its main focus on the comical duo of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), their adventures throughout the world has led them to experience new things and make new friends along the way.
Cars on the Road continues the franchise’s ideas of experimentation through these shorts as McQueen and Mater go on a winding road trip to Mater’s sister. After getting word that Mater’s sister is being married, McQueen and Mater take a road trip that leads them to many tourist locations and destinations, learning new things and lessons along their journey. From the haunts of a spooky hotel to the wacky, bizarre carnival, Cars on the Road feels like a more connected series in its format reminisce of Mater’s Tall Tales, though its plot points are passed by quickly, making the show feel a bit superficial in what it wants to resolve come its end.
While Cars on the Road is a McQueen-Mater oriented story, the focus is still set on Mater learning new things and trying to figure out what he is supposed to be in comparison to his sister. However, the series of shorts tries to use equal screen time between McQueen and Mater, which causes this main idea to be a bit ambiguous when it comes to balancing its elements. With the shorts taking up about seven-to-eight minutes, it can be difficult to try and balance those things and Cars on the Road tries to do so in a way that propels the themes and duo dynamics while having that comedic factor that made Cars iconic.
In each short, McQueen and Mater continue their travels to Mater’s sister’s wedding until they come up to a tourist spot that peaks their interest. Each tourist spot has their own themes that seems to tonally replicate other movies and films like Jurassic Park and The Shining through a satirical lens that provides that comedic element that the show tries to create. However, because it leans into its comedy a bit too much, it doesn’t have the time to have the viewer see the lesson clearly, though in later episodes it does remedy this case.
However, by the time the show reaches its conclusion at Mater’s sister’s wedding, the lessons that the show was trying to teach in each short quickly wraps itself up in a quick speech Mater gives near the end of the final episode. While I was watching these shorts, I didn’t really feel like those lessons connected themselves in a way that flowed sensibly as the shorts felt like they were made to be one-offs with simple teaching moments. This comes especially when the comedy is mixed in, which made it a bit harder for me to grasp when it came to this aspect.
Luckily, if there’s one thing this show does great, it’s maintaining that chemistry between McQueen and Mater all while introducing and re-introducing new characters. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the two motorheads return to the road, but Owen and Larry are still able to capture that best friend bond that made McQueen and Mater entertaining for the past few years. New characters like Ivy (Quinta Brunson), a monster truck who’s mistaken for a cryptid at first, manage to blend well enough with McQueen and Mater and the extravagance of these characters feels reminisce of the older Cars movies.
If there’s one short that I did like in this show, it had to be The Legend. After Mater and McQueen meet up with a group of monster hunters on their journey, they encounter Ivy, who’s mistaken for the monster the group is looking for and McQueen, Mater, and Ivy take action against the group. Honestly, it did a better job of taking the intensity and thrills of what we got in Lights Out while managing to capture the “misunderstanding story” pretty good, utilizing Ivy’s backstory in a way that’s creative to the main story while creating that needed chemistry to make her iconic.
Throughout the show, we do see Ivy pop up from time to time, as seen in Show Time and later in B-Movie and even though she’s mostly utilized as a side character, she was pretty good in contributing to this show overall. I would’ve been okay with having a bit more Ivy to test the McQueen-Mater duo since she’s an entertaining character, but she’s mostly limited to these episodes without expanding her. I think this is what the show suffers from a bit since the shorts are made to be easily digestible, but I just want more characters to be pushed a little bit more and Cars on the Road takes little advantage over it.
Nonetheless, the show was pretty entertaining overall and I like how each short had uniqueness through exploring the world of Cars a bit more in a realistic way. However, I would’ve loved to see the idea behind this show explored a bit more (possibly just a few more episodes) since it did feel like I was re-watching an expanded version of Mater’s Tall Tales at times.
Overall, Cars on the Road is a great show if you’re looking for some entertainment to easily watch from Pixar (or even if you’re bored on a road trip!) It does really great with enforcing character chemistry and creating new connections by building on its aesthetics and world-building in each short. However, if you want to watch something that has a stronger grasp on its lessons and ideas by the end of it, I’d recommend you take the next exit.