Cars 3 (2017) Review

DEFINING A LEGACY


 

Back in 2006, Pixar Animation Studios unveiled their seventh feature film Cars, introducing viewers to the world of racing (populated by anthropomorphic vehicles and machines) and of the tale of hotshot sensation Lightning McQueen. While the movie as emotionally palpable as Finding Dory, action packed as The Incredibles, or as ingeniously creative as Toy Story, Cars was met with mostly positive reviews from both fans and critics and did make a sizeable profit at the box office, which did help make the decision (by the studio execs) to green light a follow-up movie. That sequel materialized in 2011 with the release of Cars 2, featuring the return of Lightning McQueen as well as antics of Lightning’s comical sidekick and buddy, the tow truck Mater. Unfortunately, the movie was not well-received as its predecessor as the film, while still as a racing-style influences, added a new element (the spy genre) into this mix, which didn’t mesh well and became more of a distraction for the film (and its viewers) rather than broadening the scope of the franchise. Thus, despite gaining box office success, Cars 2 has been regarded by many as the lowest (and least favorite) of all the Pixar films. Now, after six years since Cars 2 came out, Pixar Animation Studios and director Brian Fee gear up for another installment in this franchise with the film Cars 3. Does this latest installment race to the finish line or does it get stuck at the start position?

THE STORY


Years since his breakout success as a rookie, the now world-famous Lightning McQueen (Own Wilson) is still at the top of his game in the racing circuit. He’s arrogant hotshot ego has smoothed, finding McQueen to be more matured and a “old pro” with his fellow racers as well as his Radiator Springs pals, including girlfriend Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Coming out of nowhere is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a new rookie on the scene and part of the next-gen of cars, whose arrogances matches his top-performing speeds. After enduring a massive car wreck that almost ends his career, McQueen, feeling obsolete, pulls back to rehabilitate and heads to the Rust-eze Racing Center to work on his fundamentals. McQueen is then paired with the energetic Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a racing trainer who has faith in her elderly client, but can’t get him up to the required speed and performance to outrace Storm. Hoping to return to a life of racing, McQueen looks for inspiration in the legacy of his mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), seeking out Hudson’s mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper) for advice. However, the road to redemption isn’t easy, with McQueen learning his true place in professional racing, confront his age and experience on the track.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As a fan of animated movies, I’ve mostly enjoyed the Pixar movies, with their quality of animation visuals, solid voice work cast, and that classic Pixar signature touch that only they can pull off. Like many out there, the Cars franchise, in comparison to the rest of the Pixar films, is somewhere towards the lower end of the spectrum. However, I did enjoy the first feature film a lot and was satisfied with the end result. The movie had humor, dazzling animation, great voice talents, a collection of memorable characters, and interesting message (with a little heart thrown into the mix). Unfortunately, the same feeling cannot be shared when it comes to Cars 2. I appreciate the ingenuity and creative minds that the people at Pixar have in trying to expand the world of Cars, but throwing the whole spy atheistic (nudging the whole circuit racing aside) as well as shifting the focus more towards Mater than McQueen was a poor choice. Despite the film having great animation and the new voice talents (i.e. Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, and Thomas Kretschmann), Cars 2 was probably, at least in my opinion, one of my least Pixar films to date.

Thus, after Cars 2 received such a bad rep from critics and moviegoers, I was a bit surprise to hear that Pixar greenlit a third installment in the franchise. Of course, a pre-conceived notion did form in my mind after hearing the news and lingered for quite some time, even after seeing the film’s various trailers throughout its marketing campaign. However, the trailers did seem hint that the movie was going to shift back Lightning McQueen as the main focus as well as the main narrative being about racing once again. So, my interest in seeing this movie was a bit peaked and was curious to see where the film ultimately ends up. Thus, I took a chance and went to go see the Cars 3. What did I think of it? Well, to be honest, its actually pretty good. It’s not perfect and doesn’t necessarily raise the bar for the franchise or as a Pixar film, but Cars 3 is sort of redemption from Cars 2 and sort of concludes the franchise in a heartfelt and positive way.

While director John Lassester directed the first two Cars movies, he actually opted to direct Toy Story 4 (a release date set for 2019) instead of directing Cars 3, passing the baton to relatively newcomer Brian Fee, who makes his directorial debut with this feature. With a background in the art department (working on several Disney and Pixar feature films), Fee is ready for the challenge and helms the third Cars film by bringing a lot of familiarity in its overtones and narrative, making the film’ story poignant and a bit emotionally compelling. Speaking of narrative, the film’s story is much more focused Cars 2, returning the main spotlight on Lightning McQueen and his time on the racetrack (ditching the spy nuance element from the second film). The film’s script, which is credited to Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, and Mike Rich, bring this third chapter’s story back to the roots of franchise, blending the elements of sport troupes with kid-friendly humor that’s aimed for the more “juice box” crowd (remember that the Cars movies are rated G). In truth, the writers, along with Fee as director, make Cars 3 to be the redemption “Rocky” entry of the series, with McQueen, now an aged veteran, questioning his lasting longevity in his career of racing and ultimately redeem himself to come back (swinging) in the end as well as seeking out an old mentor to guide him on his road back to victory.

Perhaps this is why I found Cars 3 to be quite interesting as McQueen’s journey can be easily reflected upon in the real world with many professional sport athletes. In the realm of sports, which can also be extrapolated into almost any professional career, its commonplace to see the aging athlete, who was once a powerhouse star in his prime, now must come to terms with not being the best anymore (contemplating the ideas of ending his career, but on his own terms) as newer (and many times younger) athletes / individuals rise to snatch up their own personal glory. It’s an age-old story, one that many, if not all, have encountered (or will) at one point in our lives and Cars 3 reflects that dilemma beautiful within its main story.

On a technical level (and craftsmanship), Cars 3 is a gorgeous-looking film that carries the standard quality of animation expected from a Pixar film. When Cars first appeared back in 2006, it was visually rendered beautiful, from its various car characters to its photogenic background and landscapes. Cars 3, likewise does that, but it even looks more enhanced and photorealistic in almost all areas. With the advancements in computer graphics, the imagery is more sharper, the colors are more vibrant, and the various details (both major and minor) are intricately displayed. Thus, scenes that are fast paced (especially the several racing scenes) to slower character building moments, are quite (visually) impressive to watch. So, a big thanks to the film’s co-cinematographers (Jeremy Lasky, Michael Sparber, and Kim White) for smoothly blending cartoon-ish-looking faces, vehicle car movements, and setting scenery into a moving environment that makes up the characters / environments of Cars 3. Lastly, film composer Randy Newman, who has done several Pixar films including Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monster Inc., scores the music for Cars 3 and, like its animation quality, does solid work in bring this animated tale to life (musically speaking).

While Cars 3 does certainly indeed outshine its 2011 sequel predecessor, the movie have several problems that still make the first installment the best one of the three. For starters, the Cars movies, in the grand catalogue of Pixar’s animated features, are on the lower end of the spectrum, with other titles like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Inside Out, and Up ranking much higher with its viewer-base. Thus, while Cars 3 strives to be better than Cars 2, it still can’t “break the mold” and prove to be better than its other Pixar brethren that stand a bit taller and prouder in comparison. Next, while the film’s story finds its roots closely to the first film, it’s a little bit of a narrative rehash, finding McQueen to be like Doc Hudson (a seasoned race car veteran) and Ramirez to be like the new McQueen (a youthful newcomer) as well as Jackson Storm, who acts like Lightning’s rival Chip Hicks from the first movie (just a next-gen model car). This means that the narrative structure, for the most part, is pretty much like the first film (whether that’s good or bad is up to the viewer) and makes the movie feels a bit predictable (almost formulaic). An example of this is the ending twist that I could see coming for most of the film. Its good and heartfelt, but still predictable. In short, Cars 3 is, more or less, a bit of a carbon copy of the first feature. Lastly, while Cars 3’s humor is mostly good, some of its comedic jokes and gags fail to hit their intended target. Meaning that some of its material is not a sharp and witty as its expecting it to be.

Much like the other Pixar movies, Cars 3 impresses in voice work cast, selecting plenty of talented and / or recognizable names to bring these characters to life, with almost everyone veteran from the first film returning to reprise the Cars characters. At the head of the pack is Owen Wilson, who plays the main protagonist of the series Lightning McQueen. Wilson, known for his roles in Midnight in Paris, Wedding Crashers, and The Darjeeling Limited, continues to do excellent work as Lightning McQueen (whether its humorous banter or heartfelt reflection moments). Unlike the last sequel, Cars 3 allows Wilson to portray McQueen in a different light (an older racer on the circuit and a bit more wiser) and, by the time the film reaches its ending, Lightning’s journey has come full-circle (as does Wilson with his voice work with the character). It’s interesting to note that fan-favorite sidekick tow truck character, Mater, who was bumped up to a more prominent role in Cars 2, is less prevalent in this installment. Country stand-up comedian Larry the Cable Guy still provides the voice for Mater and still does a fine and comically job as the country bumpkin tow truck from Radiator Springs, but he’s less important in Cars 3. It’s also interesting to note that none of the main characters from Cars 2 (Caine’s Finn McMissle and Mortimer’s Holley Shiftwell) are not present or even mentioned in Cars 3.

The rest of the Radiator Springs side characters also return, with most of the original voice actors retuning as well, including Bonnie Hunt (Jerry Maguire and Jumanji) as Lightning’s girlfriend, Sally, Tony Shalhoulb (Monk and Wings) as the Italian Fiat, Luigi, Guido Quaroni (software lead on several Disney projects) as the forklift, Guido, and several others (i.e. Fillmore, Sarge, Ramone, and Flo). Other noteworthy callbacks from the first film include John Ratzenberger as Lightning’s Super-Liner transport semi-truck, Mack, Bob Costas and Darrell Walltrip as broadcasters Bob Cutlass and Darrell Cartrip, and Tom and Ray Magliozzi as Lightning’s first sponsors (Dusty and Rusty of Rust-eze). As a side-note, the character Chip Hicks, the antagonist from the first Cars film, returns in this film, but is voiced by Bob Peterson rather than his original voice actor Michael Keaton.

Before I forget, I must also mention that its interesting (and kind of neat) that Cars 3 utilizes the character of Doc Hudson into McQueen’s journey throughout the film. Using unused audio bites from the first film, it’s quite clever how they (Fee and his filmmaking staff) bring Paul Newman’s Hudson back to life for this installment, which pays respects to Newman (who passed away back in 2008) as well as playing a larger part to McQueen’s tale in Cars 3. Hats off to whoever decided to do in the film’s story development process.

Along with its returning franchise characters (both major and minor), Cars 3 also sees new ones added into its narrative and are welcomed addition to this vehicular world. First, there is sort of secondary main character (behind Lightning McQueen) of feature, Cruz Ramirez, McQueen’s young and energetic trainer, who is voiced by Cristela Alonzo. Alonzo, a relatively unknown writer / actress whose work includes her own TV show Cristela, which ran from 2014-2015, and other various small projects, certainly does have that youthful go-getter attitude, which she channels into bringing Cruz Ramirez to life. Additionally, Cruz’s journey arc with McQueen (as well as her own side-story) is compelling and fits perfectly into the narrative of Cars 3 is telling. The last two new main characters in Cars 3 are bit underdeveloped and could’ve been expanded upon. First, there is the character of Jackson Storm, the next gen hotshot racer, who acts as the sort of antagonist to McQueen in the feature and is voice by actor Armie Hammer. While Hammer, known for his roles in The Lone Ranger, The Social Network, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., does solid work in voicing Storm (bring enough subtle and cocky arrogance to the character), there’s just not enough substance to him (flat and zero layered development), making him a pretty unmemorable villain. Again, this is not Hammer’s fault, but rather on the writers of the film. The other character that could’ve been expanded upon is the character of Smokey, Doc Hudson’s old crew chief mentor, Smokey, who is voiced by actor Chris Cooper. Much like Hammer’s Storm, Cooper, known for his role in, The Bourne Identity, Live by Night, and The Town, does great work in bring Smokey to life, with his seasoned gravitas sounding voice, but there’s not much to him beyond his initial guidance of helping McQueen on his “road to redemption”. Personally, I thought there was going to be more about him (expecting some type of minor side-story) as he seems like an interesting character. Sadly, that doesn’t materialize.

Other noteworthy newcomers that appear in Cars 3 is actor Nathan Fillion (Castle and Firefly), a veteran of Pixar who played Johnny Worthington in Monsters University, who plays McQueen’s schmoozing new sponsor, Sterling, actress Kerry Washington (Django Unchained and Scandals) as the racing statistical analyst, Natalie Certain, actress Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black and The First Wives Club) as the hard-hitting demolition derby ringleader, Miss Fritter, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire and 1408) and Margo Martindale (Justified and Secretariat) as Doc Hudson’s old racemates, River Scott and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash. These characters, despite being limited in their on-screen time development, are worthy minor side-characters that bring enough charisma and personality by those respective actors / actresses that voice them.

Lastly, as per usual with a Pixar film, an animated short is attached before Cars 3 begins. Titled Lou, this cartoon short is about a lost-and-found box on a kindergarten playground and the unseen monster within. Like a lot of past Pixar shorts, Lou is cute, lighthearted, and very charming to watch. I always do have to commend those credited to working on these animated shorts as animation is quite good (much like the Pixar feature film they are attached to) and are quite entertaining and heartfelt within their limited runtime.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Age is catching up to Lightning McQueen and seeks to redeem himself for one last race in the movie Cars 3. Director Brian Fee newest film sees the Cars franchise return to the its first movie roots, bringing forth a more focus tale that blends, heart, humor, and dazzling animated visuals to the proceedings. Though them stumble here and there, especially in its narrative familiarity, some minor sub-plots, and with some character developments within certain characters, the movie still a Pixar film, bringing with it all the quality animation, excellent voice talents, and poignant storytelling elements for this third entry in the series. It doesn’t outshine the first film, but Cars 3 redeems the franchise after dropping the ball with Cars 2. Personally, I did like this movie. It doesn’t really reinvent the wheel for the Cars series or is it the very best of a Pixar film, but it still has elements of it and certainly does capture the essence of the first film and sends the series off in a positive way. So, basically, I enjoyed it and found it to be entertaining. Thus, Cars 3 gets my recommended stamp of approval as it’s something that mostly everyone will enjoy (both young and old fans). While there’s room for another film (a possible spin-off with Cruz Ramirez), I think it’s best, much like the film’s underlining message about knowing when to retire, that the Cars franchise should bow out gracefully, with Cars 3 ending McQueen’s journey “on” the race track on a high note.

4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: June 16th, 2017
Reviewed On: June 25th, 2017

Cars 3  is 109 minutes long and is rated G

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