Synopsis – Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world.
My Take – I think we all can agree that the winning combination of Disney & Pixar studios has changed the way animation movies are received all over the world. With each new announcement, there is a certain hype & excitement, no matter if the feature is an original or a sequel to a very successful original. With films like Wall-E, The Incredibles, Inside out, Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo & its recent mega successful sequel Finding Dory, under their belt, as an audience, the hope to see yet another marvelous tale is always going to be elevated. However, this franchise about living & talking automobiles created by John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios has unfortunately never found itself a place among these great films. Yes, I am not a fan! A passion project from Lasseter, the original 2006 film can be considered as an alright film, not terrible, just way below the standards Disney-Pixar had set since their first release in the form of Toy Story (1995). But I guess its the 2011 sequel that walks away with the worst Pixar movie ever made title & I doubt any other film could come close to the torment Larry the Cable Guy put us through (that includes the 2015 rare flop The Good Dinosaur). While the critical reception crushed the film, the franchise went on amass over $10 billion in merchandising sales, stating the obvious that a third film would be on its way, no matter how interested an audience would be. Luckily, director Brian Fee & writers Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell & Jonathan E. Stewart have managed to prove us wrong. Now going in I didn’t expect anything huge, mainly I wasn’t impressed with the trailers, despite the obvious change in tone from the previous films, yet I was somewhat surprised to realize how much I enjoyed this film! While it doesn’t soar to the heights of other Pixar films, it still is the best film of the franchise yet (has anyone seen those terrible spinoffs – Planes & its sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue). Here, the story is more coherent, clear and straightforward and it goes back to Pixar‘s strongest strategy which is to appeal to our deepest emotions. It doesn’t necessarily rehash the first film, but more of presenting our hero deciding for himself to take on the next chapter of life that is just as fully rewarding as beating his opponents on the race track, which I think is a well put progression in the lead Lightning McQueen’s evolution as a character. Though the story is not new, the way it unfolds keep the audience engaged, especially the last half an hour. Plus, unlike the previous film, its substitutes the annoying Larry the Cable Guy‘s character Tow Mater back into the background as a comic relief. If you enjoyed the first installment of the series, then you are sure to like what director Brian Fee has in store for you.
The story follows Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), who after dominating the racing circuit for quite some time, suddenly finds himself blindsided by a new generation of blazing fast racers. Equipped with high end technologies, racing enthusiasts and sponsors are beginning to outgrow McQueen’s generation of race cars and start moving on to the futuristic racers equipped with state of the art mechanisms & train in super cool simulators. Leading the pack is a rookie racer named Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer), who with his excessive speed & constant banter has been forcing old racers out of the game and seems to have a personal detest against McQueen. Despite facing a series of losses, McQueen remains determined to stay in the game & not to be forced into retirement like his mentor the late fabulous Hudson Hornet (voiced by the late Paul Newman) was, and in his attempt to win the Piston Cup final, McQueen ends up in severe crash hereby suggesting that his racing days may be over. However, a few months later, hope arises when he finds himself backed by a new sponsor called Sterling (voiced by Nathan Fillion), who also happens to be his huge fan & has redesigned the Rusteze training center with futuristic training equipment & sticks him with a hyper active trainer Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo). Realizing that he is not as sharp as before, McQueen decides to train harder with Cruz, so he can find a way to get back to Florida & take on his new rival. Yes, this film poses as a savior for the trackless franchise. Offered with a decent emotional story line & a little pinch of humor, this good-looking film by Brian Fee even manages to have a deeper meaning than its predecessors. Getting back to its roots, here, director Brian Fee, keeps his focus on Lightning through the changes he has to make or be pushed out of the career he loves. This is a story filled with heart, and moral lessons. The antagonist in this story are not really “bad guys” they just have different agendas than our heroes, and our heroes have to learn to overcome the obstacles that they never could have seen coming. The story takes some unexpected, but always pleasant detours and feels fresh and exciting, that is quite an accomplishment for a franchise that seemed to have lost its footing, I am pleased to say that this film lives up to its Pixar pedigree. The team must have taken a step back and analyzed the blue prints of their tale! Jam packed with emotions, the gripping tale comes together to form a very compact package. With exciting races built into the story, the movie keeps a nice pace and remains fun to watch while also being educational. No convoluted tales of quirky action or stretches here folks, it’s just classic country lifestyle. The movie does a great job setting up this underdog story where lighting must overcome incredible odds or his career as a racer is over. I like how in the movie lighting tries to improve his chances first by technology but when that doesn’t work, he goes back to what helped him in the first movie, his mentor Doc’s teachings. I was really pleased to see that this entry holds a heavier focus on racing. The franchise focuses on a race car and it was very refreshing to see that since racing wasn’t necessarily the focus of the last two films. The first film focused more on slowing down and enjoying the view and the second one had a heavy focus on a spy plot and Mater. Speaking of Mater, he doesn’t get that much screen time here as most of the Radiator Springs crew members don’t either, which gives us time to learn more about our new characters like Cruz Ramirez. The reveal of a new car being added to Lightning’s crew is exciting. This character’s glowing positivity is a nice contrast to McQueen’s snarky pessimism. Cristela Alonzo brings a lot of enthusiasm, but also plays the deeper sides of this character very well too and engages you in the evolution of Cruz Ramirez throughout the movie. She steals the show (in a good way) and I found myself rooting for her even more than McQueen.
More than anything else, this movie is Cruz’s story, and her character could even be seen as a feminist message of hope. It’s no Wonder Woman, but this film certainly does more to help close the gender gap than its predecessors (in fact, one scene directly addresses sexism in the racing world, though it’s not strictly about Cruz). The new rival, Jackson Storm makes the cocky McQueen in the first film look tame. The themes basically ask the inevitable questions of what we all should do when we get older and are no longer able to do some of the things we love, what would be the options then. Another wow factor was the film’s excellent effort in pulling parallels between Hudson Hornet’s experience and what McQueen is going through. It’s like every piece fits into its place naturally, like it’s meant to be. Of course, being a Pixar film, the animation is beautifully detailed, stylish, slick, and fluid on all levels from the skidding tires to simply drinking oil at a local garage bar. Unlike its sequels, the movie really focuses on the fast-paced world of racing, and brings the full effects of Disney animation to life. All the excitement is captivating and exciting, perfect for many audience members of all ages. Nevertheless, the film is far from perfect. The real downside to this film is that it doesn’t work very well as a standalone film! While you could get the overall gist of it if you’ve never seen the 2006 film, it works much better when thought of as a continuation of the first film. There are also some issues with the story line and sometimes the proceedings are just too slow! The narrative starts at a very high point and then takes a few dips and dives as it rolls along, but thankfully makes its way out of those potholes quickly and grabs your attention back just as quickly as it lost it. The soundtrack leaves a lot to be desired with no more road-tripping, car driving, top down tunes left after the first (though the score of this film is far superior and samples from not only the original, but also other Pixar outings, which is fabulous). It’s predictable, but it’s also a Disney movie so that’s not completely off-the-wall. It was good for a sequel, especially knowing that it could’ve been another disaster, they’ve learned their lessons well. The voice actors comprising of Owen Wilson, Armie Hammer, Cristela Alonzo, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, John Ratzenberger, Richard Petty, Kerry Washington, Ray Magliozzi, Tony Shalhoub, Margo Martindale & Isiah Whitlock Jr, play their parts well. So, can we count this one as an exclusive addition to Pixar’s list? well not really, but is it a good sequel? Definitely! On the whole, ‘Cars 3‘ uses a simple and effective storyline to rebuilt on the previously created distaste & finally delivers us a deserving sequel. Preceding Cars 3 is the short film called ‘Lou’ about a creature made out of objects from a school lost-and-found bin. It’s an interesting concept and carries an important message & has already become one of my favorite Pixar shorts to date!
Directed – Brian Fee
Rated – G
Run Time – 109 minutes