If there is one Pixar property that I have never been thrilled with, it’s the Cars series. The first one was essentially a kiddie Doc Hollywood, while the second was basically Mater: The Movie. So, when I heard they were making a third Cars film, I audibly groaned. But, it is a Pixar film and I have to see them, even if they are Cars. Is the film any good?
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is running out of gas (sorry). He’s getting older while the racers around him are younger and faster models. His chief competitor is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), an arrogant jerk who pays lip service to the history of racing, but is really just an asshole. When Lightning wipes out at a race, he tries to get his mojo back in different ways. One way is joining Mr. Sterling’s (Nathan Fillion) racing team and making use of his high-tech training facility run by Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). However, when Lightning doesn’t find that to work, he goes out in search of Doc Hudson’s (Paul Newman) old mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper). Will Lightning get his edge back and become the racer he once was?
Cars 3 is better than Cars 2, so already you’re ahead of the game if you go to see it. However, while the story is cute and the film has a good, but surprising, message for kids—I can’t really go into that message without spoiling the ending—the movie definitely drags a bit in the middle, so the youngest viewers might get a little bored. That may be partly to do with the fact that Lightning McQueen is far from my list of favorite Pixar characters, but I did enjoy his journey for the most part. While Cars 2 was a wacky romp geared directly at the youngest kids, Cars 3 has themes that adults can relate to about getting older and knowing when to let go of things. It reminded me a bit of Monsters University, which also had an important, but surprising, message for its younger audience members. I will say, though, that it was a little creepy that they focused so much of the story on Doc Hudson and his legacy when Paul Newman is no longer with us to voice the character. All his parts come from the original film or are a combination of new animation with old voice work—I can’t tell as it’s been years since I saw the first Cars. However, the film does a good job of bringing the story full circle.
The animation in Cars 3 is absolutely gorgeous. When Lightning and Cruz are trying to track down Smokey, the environments looked like they were filmed in real life and the cars were just added after the fact. I felt the same way about The Good Dinosaur, which also had amazing animation. The voice work is also very good. Larry the Cable Guy is back where he belongs in a supporting role, but the main sidekick to Lightning in this film is Alonzo’s Cruz Ramirez. She has a nice arc that fits right in with the “girl power” vibe that has been building since Rey burst onto the scene in The Force Awakens. Wilson is good as Lightning, but he’s been playing this character for so long, it must be second nature to him by now. Fillion does well as Sterling as does Hammer as Storm. Bonnie Hunt is also back in a smaller role as Sally, Lightning’s lawyer/girlfriend. Kerry Washington also makes an appearance representing the percentage-driven school of thought in sports today as Natalie Certain.
Overall, Cars 3 isn’t the disaster I thought it was going to be. It’s nowhere near the top with Pixar’s best films, but it’s a good little film. I’m just not that crazy about the Cars universe in general, so those who are big fans of the series should love this one.