It was 11 years ago when audiences first met Lightning McQueen, the cgi racecar with a big attitude voiced by Owen Wilson in the first Cars movie. Director John Lasseter brought these vehicular characters to life, with a story of personal discovery and growth, but told from the point of view of sentient cars. We’ve had a sequel, and several short films (Mater’s tall tales) since then, and 2017 brings us the third full length film in the series, Cars 3.
Lightning finds himself confronted by a new generation of racers, losing one race after another to the high tech ‘next generation’ of cars. Specifically his new rival, Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer). Things don’t look good for McQueen, as his season ends with a terrible crash, and his retreat into reclusive life back home in Radiator Springs.
The loss of actor Paul Newman, who voiced Lightning’s mentor Doc Hudson, was touched on a bit in Cars 2, but they really address it heavily in 3. The shadow of the Fabulous Hudson Hornet is large, and Lightning struggles to find his direction without the presence of his crew chief and friend. Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) do their best to keep McQueen motivated, but when he leaves for training before the new Piston Cup season begins, he just isn’t the same car he was before.
Lightning’s longtime racing team sponsor Rust-eze has sold their shareholdings to a new owner, shiny and sleek Mr. Sterling (Nathan Fillion) who has built a brand new state of the art training facility create a winning race team. His head of training is yellow sportscar Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who has her work cut out for her where old-school McQueen is involved. She’s a bit aerobics instructor, and a bit twitch streamer in her approach, but her passion is really what sells her involvement in the race world.
Things of course go south for Lightning even further, and he goes on another journey of self discovery to Doc’s old stomping grounds. We meet Smokey (Chris Cooper), who trained Doc Hudson in his early days, and also the classic racing legends of the Cars world. They help McQueen train, they help Cruz discover who she’s meant to be, and ultimately give more heart to the story.
I don’t want to spoil the reveals or the big action at the end, but it’s surprisingly good and completely worth it.
SCORE: solid 3.5 out of 5, viewed in 3D (didn’t really need it, though)
Bringing in a female character to be such a prominent point in an otherwise male dominated franchise (cartoon cars notwithstanding because c’mon, where do baby cars come from if there aren’t girls too? Don’t say China, I will turn this review RIGHT around) was a SMART move, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed because the character was GOOD. Not just because she was a girl, but because her motivation and arc made sense and were enjoyable.
Not really anything *bad*, maybe just disappointing? The clever art direction that made the first film so great (example being the tiny VW bug-bugs) didn’t really grow. There isn’t anything truly NEW or spectacular about either the visuals (although yes, as a racing fan, I ADORE those sequences) or the characters.
A wonderful film for girls who love cars, who have dreams that aren’t the ‘norm’, and for everyone who enjoys racing. Cars 3 opens worldwide on Friday, June 16th 2017.