The world will see you as they choose,
No matter how they may deny.
They see exteriors so well
It takes hard work to break that shell,
To prove you’re more than meets the eye
And pay the greater dues.
The world’s opinions can infect
And sap the will to prove them wrong.
You balk on whether to begin,
But those who don’t will never win.
To everyone such doubts belong,
So prove them incorrect.
MPAA rating: G
I’m sure many, like me, approached Pixar’s third Cars movie with some hesitance, unsure if it was being made as a more fitting end for the series than Cars 2 or because Disney and Pixar were just trying to cash in on one of their most profitable (and least loved) franchises. While I still wasn’t sure through the first half of the movie, I’m glad to say it’s the former. Cars 3 is far more like the original than the over-the-top sequel, returning its sights to Lightning McQueen and the racing world and totally ignoring all the spy stuff of its immediate predecessor. Thankfully, Mater is once again a mere side character too.
Early on, we’re treated to a montage of Lightning’s time in the sun as a racing champ. After years on top, though, he’s suddenly outclassed by newcomer Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), and much as Lightning overshadowed the King in the first film, analysts and fans are suddenly enamored with Storm’s ascent and scientifically proven training. After pushing himself too far, Lightning faces a career crisis when his contract is sold to a new owner named Sterling (Nathan Fillion, who I’m glad is still finding work), and his future in racing comes down to raw performance and perhaps a new way to train with motivational coach Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).
I will say this felt like one of Pixar’s more uneven films, making me wonder at times whether it was more like the first or the second Cars in terms of story quality and character interactions. There were times in the first half when things just felt “off” for a Pixar film, like when Bonnie Hunt’s Sally encourages Lightning in highly generic fashion, and some of the new characters take some time to get used to them.
Yet as the story develops, Cars 3 grows into a worthy conclusion for the series. It’s also a fitting farewell to two members of the original voice cast who have since died, Paul Newman as Doc Hudson and Tom Magliozzi of “Car Talk” fame as one of Lightning’s Rust-eze sponsors, both of whom are sort of resurrected via pre-recorded audio, which is underused but still touching. All of the other cast members (save for George Carlin) return as well, except for Michael Keaton as Chick Hicks, replaced by the very different-sounding Bob Peterson.
Lightning’s story is all about whether he’ll give up and ride on his fame or risk damaging his reputation by striving further than he is able, a strong yet subtle conflict with real-world parallels, such as tennis player Roger Federer for example. (My VC and I love him and have debated whether he should quit while he’s ahead, yet he keeps on eking out wins.) Lightning’s main goal is to be able to choose when he quits rather than being forced out of the game as Doc was. Yet by being constantly called a “legend,” he sees that everyone considers him past his prime, and Cruz makes it very clear that she considers him old as dirt.
Despite her initial presumptions, though, Cruz becomes something that Lightning has never had before, a protégé, one who has offered so much support to others through training that she’s never kept any of that confidence for herself. The fact that she is played by a Latina woman is no coincidence either, and she becomes a fine example for minority underdogs daring to be taken seriously. The dynamic between Lightning and Cruz isn’t without its bumps, but how it plays out by the end is a clever realization of both of their goals and a perfect way of bringing Lightning’s character full circle.
As I said, except for maybe a couple racers, Cars 3 essentially ignores Cars 2 altogether, with not a single mention of the spy plot and even casting off key details. For instance, Cars 2 mentioned that the Piston Cup had been renamed in Doc’s honor, but here it’s the Piston Cup again. Plus, I noticed a scene in my recent viewing of Cars 2 where Lightning had product endorsements and plenty of merchandise, making me wonder why he is now so reluctant to “cash in” as a brand. Personally, I think Cars 2 was all a dream or one of Mater’s tall tales because Cars 3 stays as relatively grounded as the first film and thus is a far better continuation of its story. Despite a rocky start, Cars 3 turns out to be a superior sequel than the cash grab it might have been, raising Pixar’s animation quality even higher and providing a satisfying end to the trilogy. At least until they come up with a Cars 4. Please, Pixar, this franchise is one case where you should quit while you’re ahead.
Best line: (Smokey, Doc’s former crew chief) “You’ll never be the racer you once were. You can’t turn back the clock, kid. But you can wind it up again.”
Rank: List-Worthy (joining the first Cars)
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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