Cars 3, 2017.
Directed by Brian Fee.
Featuring the voice talents of Owen Wilson, Armie Hammer, Cristela Alonzo, Nathan Fillion, Chris Cooper, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Kerry Washington, Tony Shalhoub, Bob Costas, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Ray Magliozzi, Bob Peterson, Lea, DeLaria, Darrell Waltrip, Cheech Marin, Margo Martindale, John Ratzenberger, and Paul Newman.
Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world.
Seeing as the Cars franchise started a little over a decade ago, young children have most likely aged to their adolescent or teenage years, meaning that Pixar and director Brian Fee (storyboard artist turned director making his debut feature here) have made a wise decision upping the maturity level for this third installment in the series. Cars has always been the most kid friendly Pixar franchise from a studio clearly fascinated with churning out animated features of legitimate substance and themes that resonate with both children and adults alike (Cars 2 especially was a low point offering nothing outside of mindless humor, going down as arguably the worst film the studio has ever made), so it’s also simply just a pleasant surprise seeing the series have more on its mind than Larry the Cable Guy’s hick tow truck Mater cracking dumb jokes and being a dimwit in support of Owen Wilson’s hot-rod hotshot Lightning McQueen.
Although this time around McQueen is showing signs of fatigue, even more so when a sleeker, far more technologically advanced, and seemingly dangerous racecar named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) speeds onto the scene like a bat out of hell. This places a now frequently losing McQueen at crossroads of uncertainty regarding whether he should retire or adapt to the modern game, to which he obviously decides to continue on racing because that’s who he is deep down in his blood, or oil, or whatever the equivalent would be.
He’s placed with a shady new coach (Nathan Fillion) and also given a female trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) more equipped and understanding of new tactics (such as virtual reality racecourses complete with ghost opponents for motivation). Actually, right from the start of this lap in the franchise, it’s also surprising that Cars 3 is more fixated on bringing in and focusing on plenty of new characters, pushing aside staples of the series to minor supporting roles. It’s a good idea that helps breathe some new life into the engine.
Cars 3 also manages to treat these characters as more than vessels for easy laughs, giving them personalities and depth. One of the most commonly agreed-upon complaints with the franchise is that McQueen is indeed somewhat selfish and unlikable, which is something that is actually dealt with here with emotional satisfaction. Certain elements of the plot are admittedly predictable, but the execution of things, as far-fetched as they are, will sneak up on audiences. Outside of being an old dog comeback story, the animated feature is also about knowing when to pass the torch on to the next generation while feeding the hungry up and comers the tools they need to succeed. The heart of the narrative is actually the friendship between McQueen and Cruz, handled delicately, also bringing back Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson by way of using unused audio from previous entries before the real life death of the actor. In beautiful fashion, McQueen essentially uses his ego to boost the near nonexistent confidence of Cruz and her aspirations of becoming a racer.
The only issue with all of this is that Cars 3 may have gone too far into serious thematic territory, as there really aren’t a lot of laughs to be found; it is absolutely possible that younger children will grow restless throughout the experience, which is truly just a lot of soul-searching and endless training for the deciding race in the fate of McQueen’s fading career. Then again, maybe this iteration is indeed for Cars fans from lap one hitting their early teenage years. Anyway, a few brief Skype sessions with Mater (vehicles using computers, I have seen everything now) will provide a jolt of fun, but other than that the film is committed to dramatic storytelling.
However, the animation from Pixar this time around has careened far into the uncanny valley, and my be enough to keep children hooked. Hell, I was even rendered speechless. Cars 3 might be the most detailed looking animated feature in existence. The cars themselves already have an insane amount of attention given to them regarding everything from paint jobs, mouth movements, facial expressions, and more, but it’s the environments that steal the show even more so. The new training facility is made up entirely of glass structures, allowing for complicated to render reflections being noticeable in the background. There’s also a demolition derby sequence when the graphic designers are allowed to utilize everything from water, dirt, and mud, with photorealistic results. Pretty much everything about the animation is outstanding, taking the genre to new heights.
It’s safe to say that Cars 3 is best in show of the franchise, elevating the series into something more weighty. Hopefully, the terribleness of Cars 2 wasn’t enough to turn away viewers completely, as Pixar have actually accomplished something so worthwhile that it will actually be interesting to see the next logical step forward unfold. As an added bonus, the accompanying animated short Lou is an imaginatively creative take on bullying.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★