Cars on the Road TV Review

Last Updated on September 9, 2022

Plot: Follows Lightning McQueen and his best friend Mater as they head east from Radiator Springs on a cross-country road trip to meet up with Mater’s sister. Along the way, every stop is its own adventure, with outrageous roadside attractions and colorful new characters. 

Review: Cars in the ultimate black sheep in the Pixar catalog. A passion project for writer/director John Lasseter, the Cars trilogy of films are the lowest-rated Pixar films according to Rotten Tomatoes. They also happen to be mediocre performers at the box office compared to the rest of Pixar’s output, but the franchise is easily one of the top grossing properties thanks to the instantly marketable toys and merchandising associated with it. After three films, two spin-off movies, and a series of short films, Cars makes its Disney+ debut with Cars on the Road. While Cars on the Road consists of episodes that run ten minutes or less, this series features stars Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy in a story that, taken together, works almost as well as a third sequel feature.

Cars on the Road, Review, Disney+

Cars on the Road, unlike the previous series of shorts known as CarsToons and Mater’s Tall Tales, are connected to tell an overall story about Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) taking a road trip to attend Mater’s sister’s wedding. Rather than serve as a single story told in an episodic format, Cars on the Road instead serves as a series of detours to tell unrelated tales. Each episode, most of which clock in at just about eight minutes, are fantastical and over-the-top stories featuring dream sequences that allow the animators to do whatever they like without the constraints of keeping within the boundaries of the Cars continuity. For instance, one episode showcases Mater daydreaming about dinosaurs while another features ghosts and monsters in a haunted house.

While watching the early episodes, I was hoping there would be more to Cars on the Road, thanks to some well-placed inside jokes and references to movies like The Shining and Mad Max Fury Road that made it seem like this would follow the great Pixar tradition of appealing to audiences of all ages. But, as the episodes continue, they are both too short and trivial to merit much investment. The animation looks good, and there are enough costume changes for Lightning McQueen and Mater to warrant a new toy line this holiday season, but not much else. The story does bring back a couple of franchise characters outside of Radiator Springs like Cars 3‘s Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonso) and the introduction of Mater’s sister, Mato (Dana Powell). Still, most of the others are throwaway characters.

The lone exception to these disposable characters is Ivy. Voiced by Abbot Elementary breakout Quinta Brunson, Ivy is a monster truck who is central to two episodes and heavily featured in the poster and trailer for Cars on the Road. As a character vastly different than any others in this franchise, Ivy is at least an intriguing new direction for the series. Unfortunately, neither of her episodes really amounts to much in the end. While Larry the Cable Guy still sounds like he is having fun voicing Mater, Owen Wilson sounds more bored with the role than ever. Kids may not notice it as much, but the energy in this series feels like it is on fumes rather than the momentum that the critically maligned Cars 2 brought to the screen.

Cars on the Road is entirely scripted by Steve Purcell, who also directs three of the nine episodes. Purcell is best known for his comic book and animated series Sam & Max and for co-directing Pixar’s Brave. The other six episodes are directed evenly between Cars 3 director Brian Fee and Brian Podesta, who makes his animated directorial debut on this project after years at Pixar. The three directors clearly appreciate Lightning McQueen and Mater in a way that no one has since John Lasseter, but it just doesn’t work well enough to serve as a whole series. Maybe it is better these are shorts rather than a full-length film, but I could not help but feel there was something missing from this finished product.

Cars on the Road, Review, Disney+

The full series clocks in at just about an hour and fifteen minutes of disjointed stories with a loose wraparound narrative that will please the youngest viewers and only the most ardent Pixar fans. The animation is good but the stories are all too inconsequential to make this series anything more than a way to keep the franchise going a little bit further, despite having a nice message to wrap the entire story together in the end. Like Forky Asks a Question and Dug Days before it, Cars on the Road is a diversion and that is about it. If your kids are fans of Lightning McQueen and Mater, they will have a bunch of new toys they will add to this year’s Christmas list. Beyond that, there is not much else to warrant a recommendation for this series.

Cars on the Road premieres on September 8th on Disney+.



About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.