“I’m about to commit a moving violation.”
When I go to a Pixar film, I always find myself in a situation where I’m predisposed to love the movie. There have been so many greats like Toy Story and Monsters Inc and so few horrible examples like Ratatouille. So, I never really expect a Pixar film to be bad, and Cars 3 certainly wasn’t bad. There are more than a few things to love about the latest collaboration between Disney and their Pixar division. The animation company also continues to push the boundaries of digital animation technology. You can expect some very nice emotional moments. It’s also nice to revisit old friends from previous movies. Cars 3 has all of that, but it still falls a bit short when you compare it to the impressive library of movies Pixar has brought to the Magic Kingdom table. It will certainly be the Cars film that adults will be able to relate to the most. The best that could be said for the effort is that it neatly caps that particular franchise in the stable and will allow the talent led by John Lassiter to turn their attentions elsewhere. I’m really looking forward to The Incredibles sequel. I’m even looking forward to Toy Story 4. But was anyone really anticipating Cars 3?
It’s the end of another racing season, and Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is starting to feel heat from the new field of rookies led by Jackson Storm (Hammer). The new kids are sleeker and faster than McQueen’s generation of racers, and they are starting to leave the old-timers in their exhaust. Before the season is over most of the old-timers have retired or been fired by their teams. McQueen sticks around only to become the punchline of the rookie’s jokes and a target of ridicule by the pundits in the racing world. When the season ends, he has to decide if it’s time to “hang up his lightyears”.
Just weeks before the new season Lightning decides he has another season in him, but he finds the racing world is changing. His old sponsors have sold their business to a Lightning McQueen fan who builds a new state-of-the-art training facility for Lightning and a new group of young racers. But Lightning can’t adjust to the new methods even with the incredible enthusiasm of his energetic new trainer Cruz Ramirez, voiced by Cristela Alonzo. Even when he tries to return to old-school training methods, things aren’t what they once were. He arrives in Florida for the first race, and after a shaky start begins to realize that maybe he has another calling in the racing world. It’s a bittersweet ending that might leave fans divided. It’s certainly time to turn the keys to the cars over to a new generation of characters, if the franchise is to continue.
The film has some wonderful fan-boy moments that help the material to rise above such an average story and execution. Nathan Fillion voices Mr. Sterling, the McQueen fan who takes over the company. Firefly and Castle fans will find him a pretty sweet character. There are also some rather nice moments of homage to Paul Newman and his original Doc Hudson character. This is as much Doc’s story as it is McQueen’s, and it was pretty nice what they were able to do with the recordings they had of Newman’s voice. Newman was an iconic actor and also a very big part of the racing world. He was a natural to be included when the franchise began. It’s fitting that this movie in particular pays tribute to him even though he’s been gone for almost a decade. All of the other voices from the franchise are here, but in a slightly more limited way as McQueen is off with Cruz for most of the film. Still, you’ll get more of Larry The Cable Guy’s Mater than you will any of the other regulars.
If the story lacks any real originality and oomph, the animation will leave you stunned. Just when you think these guys have set a new bar, they fly over it once again. There are some scenes where McQueen trains on a beach. When you look at the sand go through various stages of dampness and the surf coming in and out I started to think: now they’re just showing off. The detail and texture is something brand new in a computer-animated film. Surfaces and reflections are starting to be about as photo-realistic as they can get… until the next time, I’m sure.
It’s an entertaining film that doesn’t have quite the heart of the first film, but there’s enough there to make this film a winner for this season’s summer box office dollars. Families can enjoy it together, and there’s still enough of the charm there to make it work. Cars 3 isn’t going to become a classic, but it will remind you of “memories we’ll remember”.