Director: Brian Fee
Cast: The voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Ray Magliozzi, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Lea DelLaria, Bob Peterson, Kerry Washington, Margo Martindale, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip
Running Time: 1:49
Release Date: 6/16/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 15, 2017
The underwhelming Cars 3 is the best movie in the series, which says more about the quality of the series than this particular installment. Something about these movies has never quite clicked, and even the filmmakers seemed keenly aware of this, considering the drastic changes between the first movie and its sequel.
The third entry does away with the expanded world, action-oriented plot, and unfortunate protagonist of the previous installment. All of these are good decisions, since the world of these movies has never made any sense (It still doesn't, but questioning the internal logic of these movies has become a fool's errand), the sequel's focus on violence was off-putting, and the comic sidekick should never become the hero, especially when said sidekick is terrible comic relief in the first place.
This second sequel is far quainter, channeling the underdog story and nostalgic tone of the first movie. The nostalgia this time around isn't for old cars and quieter way of life, living in a small town on a long stretch of a highway that used run from one end of the country to the other. The longing is aimed directly at the first movie. The third entry wants its predecessor's pure sentimentality and down-home wisdom. It even brings back the voice of Paul Newman as Doc Hudson in a series of flashbacks, trying to make up for the previous movie's lost opportunity to give the actor and the character the sendoff they deserved.
The racecar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) retakes the spot of central protagonist again. His career has been steady—winning some races and coming close to winning others. He and his competition have formed a friendly rivalry, enjoying each other's successes as much as they do their own (That doesn't mean they can't pull a prank on the winner when the press cameras are on).
A new line of racecar (Do we call them breeds, or is such a question part of that fool's errand?) has emerged. These cars are faster, more aerodynamic, trained in top-end facilities on high-tech equipment, and overtaking the positions held by the veterans of the sport. The top of the line is Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer), who keeps winning races and has a passive-aggressive ego about it. After a bad accident, Lightning is looking for a comeback. When his sponsors sell their company to Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion), they've put Lightning's fate in the new owner's hands—sorry, front tires (I think that's how it works, but let's let it go).
Sterling, who envisions Lightning as the spokesperson for various products, gives his racer one, last chance. If he wins an upcoming race, Lightning can retire whenever he wants. If he doesn't get first place, he'll be selling a whole slew of junk for the rest of his life. With his automotive trainer Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) by his side, Lightning decides to take a road trip to the next race, preparing on the old tracks of the glory days of the sport along the way.
The story doesn't offer anything new until its climactic race, which puts Lightning's story into the backdrop for another character's story to emerge. It's a move that the screenplay (written by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, and Mike Rich) probably could have made much earlier, considering that Lightning's story is intentionally a long trip to the inevitable.
What works in Lightning's tale is his defeat and his defeatism. He's washed-up and afraid of becoming irrelevant (The introduction of the new line of racecars almost has an uncomfortable political undercurrent, what with the new cars' love of "different" music and one car's distinctive accent, but the movie allays that suspicion with the hero's band of relatively diverse friends and acquaintances). The plucky, determined hero is gone. This is a car that's fighting an end that will have to come sooner or later.
Another thing that stands out is the quality of the movie's animation. Director Brian Fee has gone all out in giving these cartoonish cars photorealistic backdrops to drive against, and there's a lengthy sequence at a demolition derby in which the detail of mud on the characters makes them look like tactile objects, not digital creations.
What doesn't work is most of the rest, really. It's not particularly funny, but then again, the series' sense of humor—its reliance on car-related puns (There's a special groaner in this one, as Lightning does some speed runs on the coast: "Life's a beach, and then you drive"), stereotypical characters, and broad gags—has never been its strong suit. The screenplay really digs for nostalgia to the point that the movie's farewell to Newman/Doc becomes a plot point. The movie's message—of accepting change—is nice but buried beneath everything else, only revealing itself in a clunky swap at the last possible moment of the story (There's a little about gender roles and expectations in this, but that just raises the question of how cars have genders, let alone sexes).
This feels like ending for the series. If it is, Cars 3 is about as satisfactory a conclusion as this series deserves.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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