Cars 3 (2017)

Directed by Brian Fee
Written by Kiel Murray and Bob Peterson and Mike Rich

Pixar Animation Studios has been within the legendary status for film studios for some time now. They’ve given us so many classics and truly spectacular animated films. They’ve also revolutionized the way animated films are made. Nobody can take this away from the studio. And yet, the Cars franchise, which is the brainchild and pet project of Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, who has since moved on to revitalize Walt Disney Animation Studios, has been a popular property of the studio for critics and even fans alike to pan. “Pan” is probably too strong a word, these are good films, but given the reputation of the studio, Cars pulls in behind the field. But with Cars 3, the franchise breaths some new life.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is still riding high from dominating the racing circuit, but soon a new generation of race car is hitting the track, led by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), who uses next gen analysis and training methods to optimize his performance. Lagging behind, a horrible wreck sidelines McQueen for the season. But hungry for a return to the track to prove his mettle and pride, McQueen teams up with trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) and his former mentor’s mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper), to find a unique blend of old school and new school in order to squeeze the last bit of track out of his tires before time has fully passed him by.

What Pixar has done with Cars 3 is a very smart direction for the franchise. In danger of becoming stale with a third installment, the creative team forms a narrative which is likely most attractive to the parents of the kids who turn out in droves to enjoy their favorite characters. The film poignantly comments on aging, and how to deal with it gracefully. It is hard to know when our time has past, when it becomes necessary to adapt to new ways and stop preaching the old. This delicate balance is difficult for people of all ages, as we continue to go through phases of change throughout our lives.

But the film is more than a philosophical gesture towards changing times and new and improved methods. It’s also a fun ride! In recent years, especially with The Good Dinosaur and the short Piper, Pixar has made remarkable strides in the technology of computer animation. The result is a gorgeous film here. While the Cars characters are among the most bland, visually speaking, the racing scenes here are truly breathtaking animation, the Lightning wreck especially. There is enough excitement, humor and fun throughout to even overcome the fact that Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is back once again, though thankfully in a much smaller role this time.

Cars 3 is a consistently entertaining film, and captures the romanticism of racing along with the both the beauty and anguish of aging, giving it a photo finish with the original in terms of best in the series. Cars 2 so clearly lags behind. With that being said, Cars 3 is also overly formulaic. If you have seen any comeback story, or aging story, you know every single note that will be hit within the 100 minutes of Cars 3. It’s very familiar and while that’s a knock, there is also something very comforting about it. Cars is not up to par with most of Pixar’s catalog, but with this installment, it deserves to be spoken about with praise and reverence, even if slightly muted.

*** – Good

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