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Cars 3 Movie Review

Disney/Pixar Cars 3 (2017) movie poster Cars 3

Theatrical Release: June 16, 2017 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Brian Fee / Writers: Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart (original story); Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich (screenplay)

Voice Cast: Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Cristela Alonzo (Cruz Ramirez), Chris Cooper (Smokey), Nathan Fillion (Sterling), Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), Armie Hammer (Jackson Storm), Ray Magliozzi (Dusty), Tony Shalhoub (Luigi), Bonnie Hunt (Sally), Lea Delaria (Miss Fritter), Kerry Washington (Natalie Certain), Bob Costas (Bob Cutlass), Margo Martindale (Louise Nash), Darrell Waltrip (Darrell Cartrip), Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (River Scott), Bob Peterson (Chick Hicks), Guido Quaroni (Guido), Tom Magliozzi (Rusty), John Ratzenberger (Mack), Kyle Petty (Cal Weathers), Lewis Hamilton (Hamilton), Lloyd Sherr (Fillmore), Junior Johnson (Junior Moon), Ray Evernham (Ray Reverham), Paul Newman (Doc Hudson), Cheech Marin (Ramone), Humpy Wheeler (Tex), Katherine Helmond (Lizzie), Paul Dooley (Sarge), Jenifer Lewis (Flo), Shannon Spake (Shannon Spokes), Madeleine McGraw (Maddy McGear), Michael Wallis (Sheriff), Mike Joy (Mike Joyride), Jeff Gordon (Jeff Gorvette), Daniel Suαrez (Danny Swervez), Ryan Blaney (Ryan "Inside" Laney), Bubba Wallace (Bubba Wheelhouse), Chase Elliott (Chase Racelott), Richard Petty (The King), Andra Day (Sweet Tea)


Nine of Pixar's first ten releases were original movies. For their first fifteen years in feature-length animation, their only sequels were the two loving follow-ups in the beloved Toy Story universe.
Then came Cars 2. Up until then, the Emeryville, California-based studio had only made films that ranged from indisputable successes to full-on instant masterpieces. A couple of their works had some vocal detraction, including the original Cars. But by most measures, they were distinct triumphs, revered by critics and moviegoers alike, the latter showing their support in robust ticket sales and leggy runs.

Cars 2 was the first Pixar movie that more declared a miss than a hit. It disappointed at the domestic box office and bore little resemblance to the film it followed. Like almost no resemblance. The original Cars was a Doc Hollywood-esque small town tale of stopping to enjoy the ride. Cars 2 was a globe-trotting homage to James Bond and "wrong man" movies, with sidekick Mater in the foreground. The movie did well in foreign markets, but it became Pixar's first feature to get not a single nomination from the Academy Awards.

When Cars 3 was announced in 2014, the general reaction seemed to be "why?" Sequels are typically the product of warm reception and strong demand. There appeared to be little of either here. Cynics pointed to merchandise sales, the measure by which Cars dwarfed other animated films. By the time Cars 2 was released in 2011, the franchise was doing $2 billion in global retail sales annually. The disappointments of Cars 2 have neither been forgotten nor forgiven. In the six years since, Pixar has made some other curious sequels/prequels and one bona fide flop (The Good Dinosaur). Let's not even talk about Disney's wretched spin-off series Planes, which sullied the brand without Pixar involvement. Pixar is still considered the gold standard of animation, although Disney's much older division has become a formidable competitor for the Animated Feature Oscar, winning the award three of the last four years.

A recovering Lightning McQueen trains with Cruz Ramirez on the beach in Disney/Pixar's "Cars 3."

As Cars 3 opens, the question "Why?" still lingers. The movie does not answer that question, but it does find Pixar backing off of the "let's change everything" approach they took to the previous installment. Cars 3 pretends Cars 2 never happened. That's not an exaggeration. I didn't spot a single reference to anything that occurred in the previous film.

Characters introduced in Cars 2, all those international spies and conspirators, do not return, nor do they receive mention. Cars 3 is basically a Cars 2 that didn't come completely out of left field.

Red race car Lightning McQueen (voiced, as usual, by Owen Wilson) is no longer the hotshot he once was. Now, he's consistently being beaten by young rookies like the cocky Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). At one such race, trying and failing to keep up with the competition, Lightning crashes. Big time. We jump ahead four months to find the restored protagonist recovering yet despondent. His managers hope to rev up his comeback efforts by getting him to the new high-tech training center built for him by Rusteze's new owner Mr. Sterling (Nathan Fillion), a racing fanatic with high regard for Lightning.

Lightning acclimates himself to the facility with the thoughtful training of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Eager to get back on the racetrack, though, Lightning embarrasses himself and has Sterling push for his retirement and the start of a new career phase as a highly marketable brand. His new boss agrees to give Lightning one chance to continue racing: he has to win the Florida 500, a victory that the statisticians give him just a 1.6% chance of achieving.

With Cruz pushing him to excel, Lightning pulls out all the stops to try to be better than ever. There's an incognito demolition derby and a visit to Doc Hudson's old mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper), who has never before been mentioned.

Working his way back into shape for the Florida 500, Lightning McQueen finds himself competing in a figure 8 race in the country.

Cars 3 is one of Pixar's weakest films. It's not their worst, though. That continues to be Cars 2. Cars 3 at least makes sense as a sequel to the original film.
Most of the Radiator Springs gang is reduced to the periphery. Lightning's bucktoothed tow truck best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) still has a fair number of scenes, though he's decidedly demoted from Cars 2's lead role. Lightning's love interest, blue coupe lawyer Sally (Bonnie Hunt), gets slightly more than a cameo. Doc Hudson, meanwhile, seems to have more screentime than the two put together, moments from his Paul Newman-voiced turn in the original film being recycled as a device to motivate our hero and generate some emotional weight.

This sequel leans heavily on racing, something largely limited to the original film's bookends. It gives Lightning an arc resembling that of an accomplished but aging professional athlete. It's not completely predictable, but those watching closely will probably figure out the film's resolution before it is revealed. The directorial debut of Brian Fee, a storyboard artist at Pixar since the original Cars, this threequel does seem determined to get things back on track after Cars 2 went on such a random detour. And though it has some success at that goal, the story and characters are nowhere near as compelling or rich as what was introduced eleven years ago.

Remaining on American soil the whole time, Cars 3 avoids the lucrative pandering to foreign territories that made Cars 2 a far bigger hit outside of North America than in it (a stark contrast to the first film). There are, however, a suspicious number of makeovers given to Lightning, perhaps to up the tie-in product count. The film also does make transparent pushes for some trendy diversity, introducing a strong female Latina character. That feels like a somewhat desperate push for relevance, but probably the film's greatest hope for commanding respect.

Cars 3 looks amazing and clearly has put effort into making a movie that resembles and relates to the original film, which I maintain is better than most people give it credit for. But, it's not fair to interpret merchandise sales as proof that people of any age were itching to return to this universe. Kids got restless at my screening and the whole puzzling all-vehicle universe continues to be more childish and less universal than other worlds Pixar has created, limiting adult appeal. The reviews are better than they were on Cars 2 and they should be, but Cars 3 is returning to a well whose allure evaporated amidst miscalculation unprecedented for this highly regarded studio.

Cars 3 almost certainly will not garner an Academy Award nomination. Pixar's best bet for Animated Feature will likely be November's Coco. Nonetheless, Cars 3 is preceded by Lou, a creative, potentially Oscars-bound short in which a playground bully gets taught a lesson by a Lost and Found collection that assumes an anthropomorphic form (briefly resembling a hooded E.T. in the process). Lou is succinct, funny, and even a bit heartwarming, things that can rarely be said about the overlong film that follows it.

Related Reviews:
Cars • Cars 2 • Pixar Short Films Collection, Vol. 2 (featuring Mater's Tall Tales)
Finding Dory • The Good Dinosaur • Inside Out • Monsters University • Brave • Toy Story 3 • Up
WALL•E • Ratatouille • The Incredibles • Finding Nemo • Toy Story 2 • A Bug's Life • Toy Story
Pixar Shorts, Vol. 1 • Toy Story of Terror! • Toy Story That Time Forgot
Now in Theaters: Wonder Woman • The Mummy • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Reviewed June 16, 2017.

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