(**½ out of five stars)
Pixar’s famous CGI-animated Cars franchise races into its third installment. Will it make the mark or drive way off course?
Legendary racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is starting to show signs of slowing down. The new kid on the block, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is outclassing him in every way. So, McQueen, with help from his new trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), tries to push beyond his limits. As they find themselves in the middle of several misadventures, Cruz confesses that she initially wanted to be a racer but her dreams went unfulfilled.
The Cars series is an interesting part of Pixar’s body of work. On one hand, it has been an enormous financial success, spawning nigh-endless merchandise and some spin-offs. Yet, critics and grown-up fans of animation tend to look down on it. These negative feelings came to a head with Cars 2, which many feel was Pixar’s worst movie. I personally feel that Cars 2’s spy subplot was unnecessarily convoluted and heavily detracted from the film as a whole.
Cars 3, perhaps unsurprisingly, ignores the second film’s story and tone and goes back to basics. Like the first film, it tells a more grounded, personal story of a racecar looking to improve himself. Interestingly, McQueen’s buddy Mater (played by Daniel Whitney, better known as Larry the Cable Guy) has much less screen time. This above all else shows how de-emphasized the comic relief is here compared to Cars 2. Also, McQueen’s new sponsor Sterling (Nathan Fillion) comes off as caring more about merchandizing than the love of racing. Perhaps this is Pixar’s way of reflecting on the real-life cash cow Cars has become for them?
Cars 3 is worth seeing for fans of the series, and especially for those who liked the first film but felt burned by the second. As far as Pixar sequels go, it’s no Toy Story 2 or 3, but can sit comfortably somewhere between Finding Dory and Monsters University and naturally outclasses Cars 2 by a country mile.
In front of Cars 3 is Pixar’s latest short film, Lou, which centers on a fantastical lost-and-found box at a preschool playground.
The future of Pixar is still in motion, but for now, race to the theater to witness Cars 3, a clear winner in this summer’s big screen grand prix.