Pixar gets things back on track in Cars 3.
Following a rather disappointing – and somewhat forgettable – sequel in 2011, the third instalment in the massive animated film franchise welcomes back familiar faces, along with newfound friends and one interesting foe.
Owen Wilson returns to voice titular hero Lightning McQueen, plus Larry the Cable Guy is back as fan favourite Mater. Some new vocal additions include Canadian Nathan Fillion and veteran actor Chris Cooper, with Armie Hammer as rookie hot shot racer Jackson Storm and Scandal’s Kerry Washington playing a number-crunching automotive analyst, aptly named Natalie Certain.
The story begins with McQueen methodically reciting his age-old mantra while preparing for yet another race. He basically still kicks butt out there and enjoys a comfortable fanbase full of devoted followers.
However, all that is about to change.
A mysterious souped-up new car named Jackson Storm (Hammer) shows up on the racing circuit. He initially seems honoured to be competing alongside McQueen, but it soon becomes clear his only intention is to run the legend right into retirement.
Things get worse for the aging protagonist after he suffers a horrible crash – a stunning and surprisingly dramatic sequence – while recklessly trying to overtake Storm in a race.
McQueen heads back to good ol’ Radiator Springs for some much needed rest and recovery. Battling the cartoon equivalent of depression, he receives a little help from his friends and gets motivated again.
The seemingly washed up racer heads to an elite training centre and begins preparing to win the coveted Florida 500. He’s aided by a plucky yellow technician named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) with racing aspirations of her own.
Cars 3 certainly doesn’t offer anything groundbreaking in terms of story; the film uses the standard Rocky-style playbook to get the point across.
For the most part though, it works. The 2011 sequel perhaps tried to cram in too much plot, as the international espionage storyline occasionally felt more akin to a car-toon James Bond flick.
This time around, the writers kept things simple. The idea of a maturing McQueen, grappling with his dwindling career, is an inevitable yet intriguing one and well-explored.
Although Hammer’s Jackson Storm character could have been developed a bit more, he strikingly represents the ushering in of a new generation that, consciously or not, makes the older crowd obsolete.
The decision to focus on a more personal character journey may not necessarily provide innovative storytelling, but it’s damn effective and feels less bloated than most sequels.
Though never quite hilarious, the movie does contain its fair share of funny moments. These are mostly in the form of kid-friendly sight gags and goofy lines of dialogue, courtesy of Mater, that breezily move the plot along.
Cars 3 also boasts some pretty striking set pieces that are consistently visually engaging. There is plenty of narrative room made for incredible racing scenes that are often thrillingly executed and masterfully edited. A training montage of Lightning and Cruz on a sandy beach is also beautifully rendered. Hell, even Radiator Springs looks serene enough to step into. As animation technologies and techniques improve, subsequent sequels are often better looking than their predecessors (see Toy Story 3 for reference).
One of the best sequences involves a mud-filled demolition derby featuring a deranged school bus, who collects the licence plates of her victims, voiced by Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria. In a movie full of standard storylines, moments like this help give the film some much-needed originality.
Pixar’s latest never reaches the emotional peaks and valleys of Inside Out or the brilliant introspection of WALL-E, but it shouldn’t have to. After all, these movies are about talking cars.
For the most part, the film is merely serviceable in the plot department, albeit visually appealing, but tugs just enough at the heartstrings. It will hopefully remind devoted fans why they fell in love with these characters in the first place.
Pardon the proverbial pun, but it would appear this franchise still has some gas left in the tank; Cars 3 gets 3/5 pieces of popcorn.
Playing at a theatre near you. Rated G and is 109 minutes long.