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Cars 3 (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 6

Cars 3

CARS 3 (2017)

Featuring the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Tony Shalhoub, Margo Martindale, Kerry Washington, Cheech Marin, Lea DeLaria, Bonnie Hunt, Bob Costas and Paul Newman.

Screenplay by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich.

Directed by Brian Fee.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 109 minutes. Rated G.

After about 15 years of constant success – critical and popular – Pixar has been in the middle of a pretty severe dry spell the last several years. The end of the near-perfect run came in 2008-2010, when the studio released the classics Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 (which was no classic, but it was a fine continuation of a beloved series.)

Since then, the wheels seem to have come off somewhat. First of all, the studio became mired in sequels. After having spent many years only doing two sequels – both to Toy Story – in the last seven years we have gotten Cars 2, Monsters University, Finding Dory and now Cars 3, with The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 in the works. (Why Toy Story 4? The third film finished the saga perfectly.)

In that time, the studio has only made three original stories. What’s more the new ideas have mostly turned out to be underwhelming, with such forgettable titles as Brave and The Good Dinosaur. Only one recent original, Inside Out, is worthy of the studio’s glory days. This is while their sister studio Walt Disney Animation Studios has been on a hell of a hot streak, turning out the type of classic animation that used to be Pixar’s stock in trade, with titles like Tangled, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana.

In the meantime, Pixar brings us back to Radiator Springs, even though Cars 2 was arguably the worst Pixar title ever, and it started the studio’s current cold streak.

Well, the good news is that Cars 3 is head-and-shoulders better than Cars 2. The not-so-good news is that for a studio which has made its reputation for adventurous, surprising and smart storytelling, Cars 3 could not be any safer if they tried. It’s as if they found a text book for Sequels 101 and filled in every blank.

Ironically, even though it mostly didn’t work, at least Cars 2 tried to do something different, something a little unexpected. Cars 3 is just essentially a retread of the first Cars movie, just not quite as good as the original.

However, it is a rather fun movie, if you’re willing to overlook the clichés and formula. And I must admit, it was a nice world to revisit.

Cars 3 starts with the most basic premise in any sports-oriented sequel – the superstar who is getting old and being left behind by someone younger and faster than him. Lightning McQueen (still voiced by Owen Wilson) has been on top of the racing world for years, but he’s starting to feel those bumps and bruises, and he’s starting to lose his position to a new souped-up high-tech competitor. In fact, all of Lightning’s old rivals are being replaced by these young kids who use technology for extreme speed, but do not understand the strategy and skill of the sport.

Pixar previewed this chapter months ago with a teaser trailer of Lightning in the midst of a particularly hard race and wiping out, flipping and rolling apparently to a very dramatic death. (My nephew, upon seeing the trailer, said “There goes my childhood.”)

Well, the word of his survival came out soon afterwards from Disney, so I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to tell you that Lightning McQueen does not perish in a fiery explosion.

However, his scrape with mortality makes ol’ Lightning take a hard look at his own life. He has lost faith in his skills, and feels the need to find his way back to relevance. He returns to Radiator Springs to rehabilitate and train. He starts working with a young girl named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) who had wanted to become a racer but also never thought she was good enough. Hmmm, wonder where this is going?

Eventually Lightning decides the only way that he can beat the future cars is to go back to the past. He starts thinking of his late mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman, using dialogue recorded for the first film). Lightning and Cruz track down Doc’s home racetrack and ask his old trainer Smokey (Chris Cooper) to teach Lightning how to win again.

And that is it, pretty much. Lightning McQueen can bond with older racers (Smokey and lots of his old friends, as well as Doc Hudson in flashback) as he learns again how to win. Or at least how to move on.

Thankfully Mater, who oddly became the main character in Cars 2, is returned to a supporting role, in fact even smaller than in the first film. While he is a fun character, a little Mater goes a long way, as does his voice-artist Larry the Cable Guy.

The animation in Cars 3 is becoming stunningly lifelike. Other than the googly eyes and the oddly disquieting lips on the autos, the races feel like actual live racing footage. This is the best-looking film in the series, and the other two looked pretty good as they were.

Otherwise, though, Cars 3 is just wallowing in nostalgia for the first film, which was honestly better. Still, it is a step in the right direction for this series. I’m not sure we need a Cars 4, though.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: June 16, 2017.


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