Friday, June 18, 2021

Cars 3

Note: This review contains spoilers for Cars 3.

Sometimes when watching a film series, you might skip any entries past a certain point because you felt burned by one of the sequels. Such was the case for us with Cars 3, the only Pixar film we hadn’t seen, since we viewed Cars 2 as a less-than-stellar sequel to an already okay film. Though we had heard good things about Cars 3, we actively avoided it for about four years until a window of opportunity struck and we could finally complete that unsightly gap in our Pixar viewing via Disney+. As it turned out, it improved on the previous films enough that we now wonder why we didn’t watch it sooner.

Lightning McQueen’s (Owen Wilson) career, as well those of the Piston Cup racing series, are threatened by the success of younger rookies like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) who use more advanced technology in driving and training. Jackson Storm’s success attracts other rookies to join in, forcing an increasing number of veteran racers out of racing or into retirement. In the final race of the season, Lightning McQueen is desperate to prove himself against Jackson Storm, but gets too impatient and suffers a violent crash. After he recovers, he decides to return to racing, but feels friction with his new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), as he struggles to keep up with her newer methods.

Lightning McQueen's (Owen Wilson) career nearly ends after a serious crash.

Compared to the previous Cars films, Cars 3 has a surprisingly poignant storyline about Lightning McQueen still trying to fit in with a world that’s gradually passing him by. It does touch on the old school vs the new school, but does it in a way that doesn’t completely disparage new school training methods. The characters Lightning seeks guidance from during the second act actually acknowledge that he can’t outpace Jackson Storm at his age, so he goes through old school training so he can get better at outsmarting his rival instead.

There’s also an interesting arc in Lightning’s relationship with Cruz. Though she starts off as his trainer, they end up training each other until eventually Lightning makes a very bold decision during the climactic rematch with Jackson Storm. While this decision may come off as anticlimactic for some viewers, it fits in well with the story’s established themes and ties in with another arc regarding Lightning’s relationship with Doc Hudson (Paul Newman, archive audio), who is all but outright stated to have passed on after the original Cars, and the legacy he left behind. What also helps is that Owen Wilson shows that he really can deliver an emotional performance with the right direction.

Cars 3 also has some truly stunning visuals, especially in the photorealistic backgrounds. It’s clear that Pixar has really stepped up their game in this department, as many of their recent films have had this level of detail put into them. Even on the cars themselves, you can see realistic reflections and a lot of smaller details like mud rendered consistently well. Since Lightning McQueen’s crash at the beginning is also rendered more realistically, it adds more emotional weight and impact to the moment and sells it as a pivotal moment for him.

You could almost mistake this for live-action.

Though the film has a refreshingly renewed focus on racing compared to its predecessor and takes better advantage of its setting, it’s still hard to call it one of Pixar’s best films. It’s certainly the best Cars film and shows the studio is more than capable of telling an emotional story, but it still lacks that extra oomph that makes most of Pixar’s output so magical. With that said, it’s still worth watching at least once and can easily be viewed directly after the original Cars, as Cars 2 has no bearing on the events of this film.

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