And a second Pixar trilogy takes a bow. On one side you have the Toy Story trilogy, one of the finest collection of films ever made. And the other… well, includes Cars 2.
Cars 3 (2017) is a Pixar animated family film directed by Brian Fee. After being relegated to the supporting cast in Cars 2, Owen Wilson returns to the spotlight as Lightning McQueen, racing legend at the end of his career. Unable to keep up with the blazing fast rookies of the racing world, especially smarmy up-comer Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), Lightning is forced to reinvent himself with the help of the plucky Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) in order to stay in the sport he loves.
Cars 3 is essentially what Cars 2 should have been. No more spy misunderstanding crap where Larry the Towing Guy gallivants around the world being as entertaining as the screaming kids in a Minions screening. No, now Pixar has brought the focus back to where it should be – racing, McQueen and mildly entertaining family fare. And that’s exactly what’s delivered here.
The story is arguably the biggest improvement from Cars 2. It invokes a surprisingly thoughtful thematic throughline about old vs new, ageism and grappling with what everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives – being left behind in a fast-paced world. Not only that, but Fee takes a surprisingly measured approach to this story with a rather steadily paced journey that takes its time and allows the audience to appreciate the quandaries the film is presenting. Beware, this slow speed limit is potentially going to test the patience of everyone who still struggles with bladder control, but for everyone else its likely to be a leisurely paced affair that never peaks, but rarely slumps in entertainment.
The one thing Pixar is always going to deliver on is the animation – and here its as photo realistic as ever. Whenever the camera pulls back for a wide shot that just allows you to take in the scenery it looks real, and incredibly stunning. Everything from the dust kicked up by McQueen to the way light reflects off his bonnet is stellar, making the cartoonish-looking car faces look positively archaic in comparison.
As performances go, Owen Wilson is exactly as you’d expect for Lightning. This film does allow him to flex his dramatic muscles a smidgen more, but ultimately its business as usual for the vaguely folksy automobile. Newcomer Alonzo isn’t quite as funny as the film wants her to be as Cruz Ramirez but she does do dramatic well, even managing to sell some extremely cheesy dialogue with a little bit of likeability. The real flat performance here is Hammer as villain Jackson Storm. Its not that Armie isn’t suited to the role, but moreso that Storm is as paper-thin as villains get and the movie makes no attempt to give him any personality beyond ‘cocky rival’ which is damaging. As for the rest of the returning cast, they’re all fine. Even Larry the Cable Guy is less annoying than usual as Mater (thankfully helped by the fact he’s barely in the film).
Cars 3 is perfectly solid family fare for the legions of parents and excitable children that will end up seeing it. Potentially better than the original Cars and miles better than Cars 2, Cars 3 isn’t likely to make a strong impression on anyone with an age in the double digits, but the smart themes it deals with coupled with stellar animation means its far from Pixar’s worst – even if it isn’t even within view of its best.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Meh