Release Date: June 16, 2017
Running Time: 109 minutes
If Michael Jordan or Peyton Manning could not beat Father Time, what makes Lightning McQueen believe he can? In Pixar’s Cars 3, the racer (voiced by Owen Wilson with his usual folksy charm) quickly goes from champ to has-been quicker than he can flash his headlights. McQueen is getting older, and he can’t keep up with the next generation of racers that is sleeker, stronger and faster, as exemplified by upstart Jackson Storm (voiced with an appropriate amount of cockiness by Armie Hammer). Following a crash that leaves him sidelined for months, McQueen decides to return to the racetrack to prove that he has more victory laps in him. So McQueen’s new sponsor (a seemingly empathetic Nathan Fillion) pairs him with a trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), in hopes that the cutting-edge technology at their disposal will give McQueen the boost he needs to take on Storm. Rocky on the racetrack, Cars 3 is a natural progression of the events of Cars, which also found McQueen facing an uncertain future. The difference between the two films is that McQueen had yet to peak as a racer in Cars and he is past his prime in Cars 3. (Cars 3 wisely ignore the spy games McQueen undertook in the disposal Cars 2.) Working from a surprisingly involving script credited to Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich, director Brian Fee presents a Lightning McQueen who refuses to believe what everyone around him already knows: he is fast enough to race but no longer fast enough to win. Cars 3 operates under the assumption that our greatest sports heroes cannot recognize or accept when it is time to hang it up, and they hurt their legacy in the process. We prefer to remember Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA final between his Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz than his attempt to make a comeback with the Washington Wizards. But McQueen’s ego gets the best of him in Cars 3, and his efforts to turn back the miles results in training sequences that range from the hilarious to the inspiring to the demoralizing. Before McQueen reluctantly agrees to train with Cruz, Cars 3 moves at a gradual pace that suggests it exists only to sell more merchandise to kids who love anthropomorphic automobiles. How else to explain Cars 2 and the non-Pixar spinoffs Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue? Once McQueen and Cruz meet and butt heads, Cars 3 picks up the necessary speed that allows us to engage in McQueen’s quest for both victory and dignity. As voiced by the peppy and relatable Cristela Alonzo, Cruz isn’t positioned as McQueen’s antagonist. She’s there to train McQueen in ways he doesn’t understand or appreciate. Their initially rocky relationship quickly begins to drive the narrative, with McQueen coming to the realization that he and Cruz share more in common than they don’t. While Cruz continues to push McQueen hard, McQueen finds himself wanting to help Cruz achieve her own professional goals. This allows Cars 3 to touch upon how women are poorly treated or outright dismissed in male-dominated sports. Cruz ultimately emerges as an inspirational figure for young girls seeking out female role models in professional sports. Cars 3 keeps McQueen mostly away from his adopted hometown of Radiator Springs—which results in barely any interaction between McQueen and his true love Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and his best pal Meter (Larry the Cable Guy), although a very little of the bumpkin tow truck goes an exceptionally long way, trust me. However, Cars 3 takes on many familiar aspects of Cars when McQueen recruits the trainer of his mentor, Doc Hudson, as part of his team. McQueen finds himself back in Small Town USA and undertaking old-school training under the Chris Cooper-voiced Smokey. As motivating as Cooper is as Smokey, you can’t help but think Cars 3 missed a golden opportunity to cast Burt Reynolds as Hudson’s trainer. Reynolds is as closely associated with driving fast cars onscreen as the still-missed Paul Newman, the voice of Doc Hudson, was off-screen. Oh, well. There are constant flashbacks to Doc Hudson training McQueen through previously unheard audio from Cars. While it’s nice to hear Paul Newman’s voice again, these flashbacks threaten to turn Cars 3 into an unwarranted exercise in nostalgia for its own mythology. Not that Cars 3 finally reveals the secrets of a world that is populated by planes, trains and automobiles. The Cars franchise just wants us to accept things as they are, despite the lingering questions that will likely remain unanswered. It’s a mystery that doesn’t work for or against the Cars franchise, and you either roll with it or don’t. However, it has always been harder to emotionally connect with McQueen and his crew because they are living, breathing characters made of metal and other material. We don’t see ourselves in McQueen in the same way that we see ourselves in Woody in Toy Story or Marlin in Fishing Nemo. But Cars 3 draws us into McQueen’s emotional journey just as Cars did. We all want to be winners. But, as McQueen learns in Cars 3, you can still be a winner in life without having hit a top speed of 214 mph.
Aired: June 15, 2017
Web site: http://movies.disney.com/cars-3