GONNA DRIVE NOW
Review by Paul Preston
2006’s Cars was a charmer. An ode to uncomplicated times and a call to literally slow down and enjoy the simpler things. Cars 2 was the worst movie Pixar has ever made. A betrayal of the initial film’s simplicity, it embraced chaos and base jokes, taking the things we liked best about the characters and crapping all over them. Good news! Cars 3 is a return to form for the franchise, even if it’s not a return to the pre-2006 Pixar that hit a home run EVERY TIME they released a new movie.
In the latest adventures of race car Lightning McQueen, racing has advanced. It’s become technology-based, with science and stats building stronger, meaner vehicles that are cleaning up in The Piston Cup. A crash signals the end of McQueen’s career, but he has other plans, choosing to stop racing on his own terms, going down the Rocky Balboa path and training to reclaim his status as the best on the raceway.
The theme here is similar to the original Cars. Movies do this in their third film, just as Indiana Jones, by movie three, was fighting Nazis again, or how The Death Star came back in Return of the Jedi…this many films in, maybe the screenwriters are short on new ideas? Whatever the case, it can often feel repetitive to cover the same ground, but Cars 2 went SO far off the track (no pun intended) that re-visiting what made Cars so great is very much welcome.
Just as McQueen rejected the slow minds and pace of Radiator Springs, now the hi-tech world of racers, including arrogant upstart Jackson Storm, are rejecting McQueen. And again, the world of Cars feels like an ode. This time, not so much to the simple life, but to old-school style, and a time when racing (among other things) didn’t rely on statistics, numbers and technology, but on skill coupled with heart. Along McQueen’s training montage-fueled path to recovery, he knocks heads with Cruz Ramirez, a young trainer who he hesitates to listen to, and Smokey, ‘ol Doc Hudson’s trainer, who comes aboard to offer advice much the same way Doc did. Using my earlier analogy, Smokey would be the Nazis here.
Speaking of The Hudson Hornet, Cars 3 is also Pixar’s long overdue love letter to Paul Newman. And who doesn’t love Paul Newman? Actually, I can answer that: people who haven’t seen a Paul Newman movie. Cars 2 should’ve dealt more with the fate of Doc Hudson, but they were busy doing whatever international racing nonsense they were doing. If you’re missing Newman like I am, the re-use of his soulful voice in flashbacks and new “footage” of Doc stamps Newman’s presence all over this movie. Hudson’s memory is a reminder that the biggest enemy to McQueen isn’t the young, hungry racers. It’s time. There was a similar theme in Toy Story 3. It’s one Pixar is good at. Using my earlier analogy, time would be The Death Star here.
Owen Wilson is very comfortable in the voice of Lightning and we’re very comfy with him, too. Many of the other voices return in smaller doses like Bonnie Hunt and Larry the Cable Guy (who, in the interest of upgrading like the young race cars in this movie, might want to think about becoming Larry the Broadband Guy). Sharing nearly as much screen time as McQueen is Cristela Alonzo as Cruz Ramirez, who’s voice work is excellent. Cruz comes off smart, feisty and packs some of the more weighty emotion of the film. Cruz and McQueen trapped in a Demolition Derby is one of the movie’s highlight scenes. Also, kudos to Pixar for putting a Latino female character (albeit a car) in one of the movie’s lead roles. After twenty-two years of movies and only Samuel L. Jackson and Mindy Kaling standing out as minorities in larger roles, some more diversity was ideal. Look for this to be built upon even more as Pixar’s Day of the Dead-themed Coco comes out later this year.
As ever, Pixar’s animation is so phenomenal that you take it for granted. The details stretch from the quality of the look (realistic ocean waves and flames) to creative choices, like never giving Jackson anything other than a devious, peering look through half-closed eyes. You get his character every time you see him.
By the end of the film, the script brings back nearly everything that’s been mentioned by Cruz, McQueen, Doc or Smokey in a torrent of callbacks that raise the emotion or intensity level. It’s actually a little much, you can almost predict what’s going to happen next because you can go through a list in your mind of phrases that were said earlier in the film and pick one that hasn’t been called back yet. But they pile so much on at the end that when the real surprise moments shine through, they’re memorable. The Cars franchise needed this but I’m all for another Inside Out-type original from Pixar next.
Directed by: Brian Fee
Release Date: June 16, 2017
Run Time: 109 Minutes
Distributor: Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures