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