Director: Brian Fee
Screenwriters: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich
Cast: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Nathan Fillion, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG| 109 Minutes
Release Date: June 16, 2017
One of the things that continues to impress me about Pixar’s Cars franchise is its resiliency and heart. Though it is considered to be one of Pixar’s weakest franchises, it managed to become a trilogy. It may not resonate as much with fans as some other Pixar films do, but Cars has continually shown that it has what it takes to be great. Even if it that means it needed to take two “very safe” films to get there. So Cars 3 doesn’t take any huge risks, it takes an unconventional approach to possibly ending Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) story.
While that is a bit refreshing for the franchise, it does come with its own set of issues and concerns. All of it depends on how you look at it. Check out my full review below.
Cars 3 finds the legendary Lightning McQueen a well-respected racing athlete. Considered to be one of the best by fans and competitors, number 95 finds himself blindsided by a new class of NextGen racers. The sleek jet black Storm Jackson (Armie Hammer) takes the racing world by storm – excuse the pun – and is often taunting Lightning to go into retirement because of his age. Of course, Lightning refuses to end his career being mocked by this new racer. Out-muscled and out-classed, Lightning pushes himself so hard just to keep up and gets into a near career-ending crash.
Determined to get back on the racing course, Lightning gets help from his new racing owner Sterling (Nathan Fillion) who gets Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), an eager young technician who has her own plans for winning, to whip Lightning back into shape. But a stubborn Lightning refuses to believe that the current trend of racing simulations will help him win, so he takes Cruz on an inspirational road trip that will help him reignite that racing fire within him but also help realize Cruz’s dream to be a real racer.
It is a respectable notion that the film tries to give that sense of female empowerment through Cruz. She has the biggest arc of the three female characters in the film. Bonnie Hunt reprises her role as Sally, who often encourages Lightning to do what’s best; then there’s Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington) who is a racing analyst that offers percentages and possible outcomes for winning, none of which are good for Lightning. But this is a possible passing of the franchise torch to Cruz.
She’s the one who goes through the most character development. Of course, since the film is about mentorship, that doesn’t leave much room for any of the other supporting characters to have vital arcs. But Lightning’s training road trip is a bit of a journey of self-discovery as he comes to find out that it’s not all about racing. He finds that new-found inspiration when Doc Hudson’s (Paul Newman) old buddies tell him that Doc wasn’t his happiest when he was racing, it was when he was coaching Lightning. And Pixar honored Newman’s memory by using previously recorded audio as expositional pep talks for Lightning. So the idea of not underestimating each other comes into play. No matter how much or how little experience these characters have, these two need each other more than they realize.
But I can’t help but feel that Cruz, as great as a character she is, deserves a better arc. Sure she gets her moments to shine, but it is overshadowed by Lightning nearly questioning her methods. And this isn’t just a build up to a moment kind of thing. The film is desperately trying to find that balance of giving Lightning a proper send off while also passing on the torch to Cruz. Director Brian Fee nearly accomplishes that goal, with a script written by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, and Mike Rich. But it falls short of reaching that checkered flag.
However, give them credit for not having Lightning and Cruz’s relationship have a romantic payoff. Instead, we see them cultivate a mutual friendship through their mentorship. Which is not only rare but also very refreshing to see. Still, Cars 3 does have a few issues, especially when it starts to feel more like it’s just revisiting familiar narrative ground. That’s when it starts just going in circles. But maybe it takes going back to the beginning to make Cars feel new.
All the tropes are there. The character struggles, the cheesy comedic second act involving a demolition derby and the intimidating school bus, Ms. Fritter (Lea DeLaria); and the pulse-pounding set pieces. And when it works, it works. Sure talking cars may look strange, but when it comes down the visuals, Pixar’s got it nailed down. Seeing Lightning race against NextGen is thrilling while watching archive footage of Doc race is pure nostalgia. Even some of the training sessions on the beach have a physicality to it. It makes Cars 3 worth watching on the big screen.
Cars 3 proves that even though the franchise may need a slight tune up, it’s engine still has the power to run more than just a few laps around the track.