Cars 2, Pixar’s follow-up to its 2006 animation about anthropomorphic automobiles, was mostly a misfire; Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer were memorable, but the ‘60s-style spy story was a detour that led to a dead end. Happily, Pixar’s boy-friendliest franchise (and merchandising juggernaut) is back in the race, even if Cars 3 isn’t firing on all cylinders (And that’s enough motoring puns, thank you – Ed.)
Owen “Wooow!” Wilson is back as red racing car Lightning McQueen, and for the threequel he faces his most formidable foe: old age and fading glory. There’s a new breed of supercar on the Piston Cup block, using statistics, artificial intelligence and drag coefficients to put them in pole position – personified by newcomer Jackson Storm (voiced with high-octane smug by Armie Hammer) and the plucky champ suddenly finds himself going from young up-and-comer to rusting has-been. Should he retire and drive off into the sunset, as many of his fellow competitors have? Or is there more to modern motor racing than numbers and science?
Along the way, he’ll get sage advice from his old mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman using some vocal outtakes from the first film), high-octane motivation from his new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), major shade from competitor-turned-commentator Chick Hicks (Bob Peterson), and a harsh dose of reality from his sponsor’s new owner, mudflap magnate Sterling (Nathan Fillion), who tells him to hang up his wheels and enjoy his lucrative legacy as the face of Mr. McClean and many other Lightning McQueen-branded products. After all, isn’t he tired of all that winning?
There are no prizes for guessing which direction Lightning’s journey takes, and for a while there it looks as if we’re headed for a retread of the first film. But when all the new flashy science fails to improve Lightning’s performance, he resolves instead to “get his tyres dirty” with a new off-track training regimen that gives Cars 3 a shot of nitrous oxide just as it’s starting to run on fumes (careful now – Ed.). Best of these is a terrific set-piece in which Lightning and Cruz accidentally enter the Thunder Hollow Crazy 8 Demolition Derby, a muddy free-for-all (the closest the Cars franchise will probably ever get to Death Race 2000), culminating in a deadly showdown with a tricked-out, Mad Max-modded school bus voiced by Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria. Cars 3 may not be vintage Pixar, but as far as the Cars franchise goes, it’s well and truly back on track (you’re fired – Ed.)
Is Cars 3 a good movie for kids?
Fans of the franchise will get everything they came for – the cars, the characters, the comedy – and although the themes about being too old to compete are unlikely to resonate with younger viewers (“You know, for kids!”), Lightning McQueen is still the hero of the story, and his determination to compete against the odds (especially when others make fun of him) makes him a good role model. Cars has always appealed mostly to boys, but in Cars 3 there’s an important subplot in which Cruz Ramirez, who has always been told she can’t compete in the male-dominated sport, proves she can hold her own on the track, if she’s just given the opportunity. (A trio of retired racers voiced by black actors, who recall their own struggles against prejudice, completes this thematic resonance.)