Animated Movies, Pixar, Reviews, Studios

[REVIEW] ‘Cars 3’, a Comeback for the Franchise

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Cars 3 continues the tale of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), one of the best competitors in all of racing. He’s still at the height of his game, winning some races and losing some, but having a great time all the same. However, when a bunch of slick newcomers, led by the incredibly fast and arrogant Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), enter the scene, suddenly Lightning can’t keep up and his final race ends with a crash that leaves him dejected and deflated. After months of sulking and watching old tapes of his mentor Doc Hudson, he realizes that he doesn’t want to be forced out of racing yet and wants to leave on his own terms.

Lightning packs up and heads to Rust-eze’s new high-tech training center, where he’s introduced to the new owner Sterling (Nathan Fillion) and the head trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). While initially excited to train on the simulators that the new kids on the block train on, he’s frustrated by the slow pace and tedious training. Despite Cruz’s pleas, he hops on the simulator and crashes, causing him to say that it’s not for him and that he wants to train the old fashioned way. With the first race of the season just a few weeks away and with Cruz in tow, he decides to hit the road and train at all of Doc’s old racing spots, in hopes that it will give him the edge on Storm.

What’s great about Cars 3 is that it basically forgets that Cars 2 even existed. There aren’t any James Bond-esque car spies, diabolical espionage, vilification of fossil fuels, or Mater eating wasabi. It seems the Pixar team learned their lesson and realized that Mater, while a hilarious and awesome character, is best in small doses, rather than as a sidekick in every scene. The Mater scenes are few and far between, but funny and impactful as a result.

If you watched the teaser trailer, you might go away from it thinking this film is going to be dark and gritty – a new type of Cars film. While the trailer isn’t misleading (those scenes definitely happen in Act 1), this is still the same fun Cars universe you’ve come to love; there are lots of jokes, Cars pun, lots of racing action, and a lot of heart.

The movie is effective because it goes back to the core element from the first film: racing. And yes, while there was racing in the sequel, it was overshadowed by all the other wacky spy nonsense. Here, we’re just focused on Lightning and his racing journey as he navigates the tail end of his career.


While at a high-level, it may seem like this film is just a rehashing of the original Cars plot (Lightning is at the top of his game, has something that breaks him, then he needs to train to overcome it), however the way they go about it and the plot elements are quite different. Also, this time, we focus on the racing culture of the South, which is a lot of fun.

The music goes back to its roots for both Randy Newman’s score and the vocal songs that play during different scenes. Newman’s score is light, but emotional when it needs to strike a chord. Likewise, the Country vocal tracks are great and help augment the storytelling.

Without spoiling the ending, the message is mature, touching, and will resonate with adult audience members. The cast is perfectly balanced by knowing when to bring in old favorites like Mater, but also creating a new story with new characters like Cruz. Overall, Cars 3 is a return to form for the Cars franchise and leaves me wanting even more.


For an even more in-depth review, check out this week’s Animation Addicts Podcast episode on Cars 3.

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About Morgan Stradling

Morgan is a native of Arizona and is a desert rat who loves the heat--she doesn’t even turn on the AC in her car in the middle of the summer! She loves big eyeliner, Survivor, Lady Gaga, and, of course, animated films. She has her MBA in Marketing from ASU and now works as a Product Manager for a tech company. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
  • Rachel Wagner

    Agree with you on this one. A really fun heart felt entry

    • Manuel Orozco

      In my opinion, in Inside Out’s level

  • Im glad you enjoyed the movie. This movie didn’t offer any surprises, and it was nice for me, since I followed the production of the film closely since the beginning. There was a lot mpre hwart and joy in the film, and was bery genuine.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Well weither or not they were surprises, Pixar over 20 years after the release of the original Toy Story is still full of them. But I totally agree

  • Phoenix Wright

    Glad to see that you guys enjoy it! I’ll probably wait to see this on Netflix. I’ve never been a huge fan of Cars although I do like it

    • Manuel Orozco

      I wasn’t a huge fan of the franchise but it’s already getting better and better thanks to this.

  • Sebastian

    Very nice review
    I recently came from my screening and it appears that I had a different viewpoint on the first act and beginning of 2nd. Ioved the first act all the way and I had a blast with the movie slowing down to touch upon real emotions you feel after you either had a good day or bad doing your job. Something that The Good Dinosaur failed miserable by skipping over important character development, that’s not the case here for me.

    Ok so I loved the first Cars and also enjoyed the 2nd one for just fun randomness. However I haft to say that Cars 3 made me think of my mentor who have helped realize and undercover things about myself throughout the last years. It was like a Treasure Planet moment with Jim & Silver (McQueen & Doc) for me, and I almost had a tear coming out at the part where it showed Doc holding such a strong bond and faith for the rookie.

    My only complaint and annoyance with the film not reaching a 5 score, is the climax. To me it was just anti climactic and I wanted to see more McQueen out the on the track. If the climax would have just given more time before doing it’s thing I would have given this movie a 5 out of 5 for sure.

    The funny thing is that when I walked out I realized that Pixar’s touch to detail on the cars felt like they were actually out driving for real (You know except for the mouth & windshield)

    I loved it though a lot.

    • Manuel Orozco

      I was okay with the climax. We can all agree it wasn’t perfect but a geat threequel nonetheless.

  • Thanks for the review. Glad Pixar made-up for Cars 2. I plan to see this next week.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Trust me you won’t be disappointed a bit.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Be sure to let us know how you like the movie

  • Manuel Orozco

    Just got back from seeing it. I actually have to give it 5/5 stars! It was as great as the previous installment but had the more elements that made the original a modern Pixar classic. Cars 3 is strikingly animated, emotionally resonant and has that sense of fun we expect from this studio between the dramatic moments! Hearing Paul Newman’s voice again got me into fanboy mode. May he rest peacefully now. Seeing the other veteran characters in the franchise made a nice touch in the proper places. Cruz has made herself a spunky addition to the team. I just like to sincerely say thanks to Pixar for making it far these past 11 years and allowing these talking cars to be like our friends.

  • Got to check this out last night with my wife. We really enjoyed it! To refresh our memories, we decided to watch the first Cars the night before and we were glad we did. The movie really felt similar to the original and, I felt, it even went a bit deeper with some of its story elements. All in all I feel like it wrapped up the Cars story beautifully. I’m hoping that they’ll leave this series a trilogy since everything wrapped up so nicely. However, despite the beautiful ending of Toy Story 3, we’re still getting another sequel, so who’s to say the same thing won’t happen with this series as well. Cars 3 is a highly satisfying film though, if you haven’t already, go check it out!

    • Manuel Orozco

      Well Pixar previously reported that it’s not the end and Lightning’s story is just beginning.

      • Hmm…I missed that report somehow. Dang. Sometimes I wish that studios would just allow movie series to end. As much as I love Toy Story, I was so moved by how the third one ended that the announcement of the fourth film kinda ruined that ending for me. The same with Cars. Watching the third one the other night, I was so pleased by how it ended, that I kind of just wanted it to be the end of the series. I know these types of decisions are usually the result of dollar signs and not actual story ideas, however, I wish they would find other ways to utilized these franchises than by having potentially never ending sequels. I was fine with the occasional Toy Story short and would have been fine with the characters continuing on in that form. I just hope that if they continue to make these films that they have good reasons and compelling stories to tell.

        • Manuel Orozco

          I was shocked like most people when Toy Story 4 was announced. But now I’m cautiously excited for it because of it’s standalone direction. As for Cars, in my opinion it shouldn’t end after Lightning’s (spoiler alert) color transformation in Doc’s memory.

        • Manuel Orozco

          Hey there. I just thought you like to know I’m seeing Despicable Me 3 on Friday morning.

  • Lee DeWald

    When the first “Cars” came out in 2006, I felt I was one of the few people in the world who absolutely loved it. I loved the movie, I loved the soundtrack, I loved it all. When “Cars 2” came out in 2011, I disliked it wholeheartedly. I read in the official art book for “Cars 2” that PIXAR wanted to go in a completely different direction for the sequel, and on that basis, they surely succeeded. But, for me, that movie was the worst thing PIXAR had ever done. It did not, for me, work on any level.

    I feel “Cars 3” is somewhere in the middle. I appreciated the return to the simpler storytelling of the original, but it felt a bit too simple. It lacked that PIXAR magic that makes a PIXAR movie a PIXAR movie. I still enjoyed it, but it felt more like a straight-to-DVD release than a theatrical one.

    • Manuel Orozco

      To each their own. I actually don’t consider the original Cars a favorite but I enjoyed it as a teenager. Second one was slightly better but I didn’t expect the spy violence to go over the top to be totally G rated material. This new one was great but like 2 wasn’t perfect.

  • I was never a HUGE fan of the original, but my friends and I loved this one. It’s easily the best in the series; it has some hilarious dialogue and did manage to get me a little emotional at times (although it’s still hard for me to take those character designs seriously most of the time). I also appreciated the fact that they used Mater more sparingly this time around.

  • Renard N. Bansale

    Cars 2 is actually a good film. It was wrong for almost everybody to just turn their backs on the studio just because they elected to take a side trip in emphasizing technical ferocity over making an emotional powerhouse. The studio that gave us a handful of the 2000’s animated gems is still here with us.

    Also, the existence of the 3rd film retroactively renders the 2nd film into serving as the most bizarre episode at the height of Lightning McQueen’s prime. When an athlete is at the top, it’s either you do a near-tragedy (a la Rocky 3) or the craziest episode. I’m fine with the fact that Pixar went with the second option, especially coming immediately after the intensely moving Toy Story 3.