The original “Cars” (2006) was a delightfully animated feature of Route 66 nostalgia that adults could enjoy. The vibrantly colored sequel (2011), with too much “Mater” (Larry the Cable Guy), was still a kid favorite, but there wasn’t much under the hood for parents. Thankfully, this third picture crosses the finish line firing on all cylinders.
The simple but emotional story seamlessly integrates the original relationship that cocky Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) experienced with Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). This time, Lightning and his friends are the senior members of the circuit, while young, arrogant rookies with new technology are blowing their doors off.
The newest hotshot is Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), in what appears to be a black custom C7 Corvette. Storm shows nothing but disrespect and contempt for the once dominant Lightning, “Don’t you worry pal, you had a good run!” and “Enjoy Retirement!” Lightning must face the shock of new realities and gauge the possibility of his return.
In addition to the expressive eyes on the windshields and smile on the grills, the subtle movements of each car’s suspension humanizes each anthropomorphic vehicle into it’s own distinct identity and personality. The sentimental story is not that deep, but relevant enough to capture the attention of most adults. Even the most hard-core gear-heads can appreciate the close ups and camera angles of the Piston Cup racing action.
Most of the original all-star cast of voices returns, (Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Katherine Helmond, Paul Dooley and the late great Paul Newman). Randy Newman returns with a buoyant new musical score and the Direction is handed to rookie Brian Fee, storyboard artist on the prior two installments. Fee effortlessly steers the story back on track without grinding gears.
New to the cast of voices are training instructor Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), Sterling (Nathan Fillion), the racing sponsor who will finance Lightning’s return to form, and Doc’s mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper). Cruz is in charge of Lightning’s training regimen, but her “wax on, wax off” techniques are out of alignment with the master’s demands.
It’s difficult for Lightning to hear from Smokey, “You will never be the racer you once were, accept it.” Sally offers, “If it’s not working, try something new.” Then Cruz explains, “Don’t fear failure, be afraid of not having the chance. You have the chance.” Without preaching, these simple messages appeal to our deepest emotions, Pixar’s strength.
One of the more comical scenes features Lightning implementing his own creative training techniques. He and Cruz unwittingly enter a demolition derby. The throng of “Mad Max” contestants, led by Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria “Orange is New Black”), a bruising modified school bus, drives so recklessly; it’s like Vacation Drive at 5pm.
During our showing, the audience was filled with young and very young children. They seemed thrilled almost every minute, with the exception of an extended narrative that spins its wheels about half way through. The lifelike animation not only has everyone believing these cars are “people,” but the audience is emotionally invested in their fate.
“Cars 3” is 109 minutes and rated G. After eighteen films, Pixar is still pedal to the metal with a full tank of gas. The talented artists create gorgeous “cinematography” and exhilarating racetrack action. Meanwhile, the screenwriters tell us the engaging, humorous and thoughtful story we want to hear. Most of all, we like these characters.
We’ve enjoyed the ride with these “guys,” from Radiator Springs to Florida Speedway. Instead of ending the series running on fumes, the trilogy goes full circle with a gratifying closure. It’s the end of the road, but if there’s another buck to be made, Disney will be back at the drawing table. As Lightning emphatically states “I decide when I’m done.”
Ron’s Rating: A- Leigh’s Rating: B+