There comes a point in everyone’s life where mortality and the effects of time force us to face the limitations age and experience set on us. It’s a timeless tale, and one that fits right at home in the true sequel to 2006’s “Cars”, “Cars 3”. While this somewhat uncalled for continuation of Pixar’s most divisive franchise may rub some the wrong way simply for being a member of the “Cars” continuity, this third entry is the sequel we deserved in the first place and makes its predecessor, “Cars 2”, look even more superfluous in hindsight as it brings the seemingly sequel-hungry Pixar back to its prime.
“Cars 3” brings the story of Lightning McQueen, once again played by Owen Wilson, full circle, picking up several years after the racer made his debut on the circuit and formed a father-son like bond with the legendary Doc Hudson. Now, with Hudson having passed away and numerous Piston Cups under his belt, McQueen is forced to come to grips with the threat of retirement when a new hotheaded racer, Jackson Storm played by Armie Hammer, arrives on the scene ushering in a new era of more advanced rookies that force veteran racers into retirement one by one until McQueen is all that’s left of the past. Determined to prove he still has what it takes to win, McQueen pushes himself too far and experiences a massive wreck, eventually deciding to give it one more go with a new sponsor owner and a new trainer in Cruz Ramirez, played by Cristela Alonzo, by his side. As he trains McQueen comes to understand even more how important Doc Hudson was to him, as well as how important he was to Doc, and learns that all good things come to an end, but that doesn’t mean happiness is ever out of reach.
As I stated in my opening paragraph this is a true sequel to the first film, providing time and development off screen to complete McQueen’s transformation from egomaniacal rookie to seasoned veteran staring down the end of his career. This film automatically gets points from me for completely ignoring anything to do with the previous sequel, “Cars 2”, other than a few cameo appearances from racers featured during the big race in the second installment. I wasn’t overstating when I said this was the sequel we deserved as we see Lightning McQueen coming to grips with his age and wanting to leave a legacy behind without falling into obscurity like his racing hero Doc Hudson. He also has to realize that his racing career can’t last forever and comes to grips with who he wants to be when that part of his life is complete. Like the first film, this story is told in a way that can entertain both children and adults. Kids will enjoy the characters, racing action, and comedy while adults can, and should, appreciate this film’s handling of a delicate tale that touches on concepts of failure, aging, and insecurities about the future especially when you’re enjoying something you’ve loved your entire life.
To touch on the voice performances and animation this film has everything you’d appreciate from any Pixar sequel. I dare to compare this to “Toy Story 2” and “To Story 3” as this film follows Pixar’s most successful sequels by providing consistent voiceovers for almost all the characters involved, although a few feature new voice actors that sound very close to the original performances, and builds on the already beautiful animation from the first “Cars” with consistency in its backdrops and designs while offering something new for us to enjoy with more futuristic visuals, especially a gorgeously designed speedway for the film’s finale and the Florida 500 (shown above). Familiar actors like Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, and others are all back and it feels like they never left while newer voices, including Armie Hammer, Cristela Alonzo, and Chris Cooper, fit right in as they join the world of “Cars” with their own personalities and characterizations.
One thing I can say about “Cars 3” is that, if you give it a chance, the film is an attention grabber. It flows very neatly from one moment to the next with a well-organized story as we see McQueen embrace the same old training methods, and some new ones, to try and regain his momentum and return to his prime. The story expands the world of “Cars” in a way the second film should have by introducing us to the history of oval racing, including a few new dirt tracks and even some of Doc Hudson’s old friends that help continue McQueen’s growth as a person….err….I mean car.
The biggest issue with this film however is that this movie, more than any other sequel in Pixar’s repertoire, is pretty much a carbon copy of the first film with a few new added elements to modernize and update the story for a new situation and time. McQueen is still learning from his elders. Mater is still amusingly obnoxious. The story involves the realization that there’s more to life than racing. Even the comparisons the film comes to establish between Doc Hudson and Lightning McQueen are reminiscent of lessons learned by both characters in the first film. All that said, it might be a retread of it’s predecessor, but this is a story we don’t mind seeing again simply because it’s a pure continuation of what we have already seen and adds to the important and timely messages the first film, in all its child-friendly glory, managed to portray so well for anyone who took the time to enjoy it.
It would be easy to write off “Cars 3” specifically because it’s a member of Pixar’s most criticized franchise and one that, in the eyes of many, is pretty much built to sell toys, but I’m going to be one to say it’s a film worth enjoying. You can forget the horrendous “Cars 2” if you want, this film is the true sequel to the first movie and reestablishes everything worth loving from the original, adding to the emotional depth and world of the original “Cars” in satisfying fashion. It may not be the solution to Pixar’s recent sequel problem, but “Cars 3” is a step back in the right direction for a studio desperately in need of a true quality projects to put it back on track.