By Jack Dignan
I went into Cars 3 expecting the film to be good. It’s Pixar. It almost has to be. After the critical disappointment of Cars 2, they needed to redeem the franchise. It had to work, and based on the trailers, which seemed to advertise the franchise taking a much more mature turn, this seemed to be the case. A behind the scenes sizzle reel shown before the film at last night’s Pixar Insider’s Preview Screening seemed to advertise the amount of love the filmmakers and animators put into this movie. It was looking good, perhaps not as good as the first, but it looked leagues ahead of the second. Although, what I didn’t expect this film to be was great, making Cars 3 the most pleasant surprise so far this year.
Every dog has its day, and as time goes on, we’re just not as capable as we once were. It’s part of life. The world around us changes, and often, we find ourselves trailing behind, desperately playing a game of catch up. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is dealing with this exact problem. He’s being outdone by a new generation of racecars, who have all grown up watching him race. In their eyes, he’s a veteran, even if he doesn’t want to see himself that way. New kid on the block Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is taking the world by… well… storm. McQueen hits a low point in his career, ending it all with a fatal crash that forces him out of the competition. But Lightning refuses to give up. The crash isn’t going to keep him down, and he’s now more determined than ever to prove the world that he’s still the racecar he used to be.
It’s the comeback story we all know and love. McQueen has gone from being at the top of his game to becoming the underdog, and it makes for an interesting slant on the beloved character. We’ve seen McQueen face off against all odds to prove himself, and we’ve seen him at the top of his game, but we haven’t seen what happens when the legend falls from his podium. That’s what Cars 3 delivers. The general structure of the film feels very familiar. We’ve seen the underdog story told countless times over the years, most famously in the Rocky franchise, which recently told a very similar story in Creed. The protégée becomes the mentor. Lightning McQueen becomes Doc Hudson (Paul Newman, who reprises his role through archived audio and already used footage in a number of small flashbacks).
To be the best around, Lightning needs to take things back to basics, and in a lot of ways, this represents the state of the franchise. Cars 2 lost its way, much like Lightning does, and Pixar are taking it back to where it all began to make something new and exciting. There are a number of parallels between this third film and the original, but in similar vein to both Creed and Star Wars The Force Awakens, Pixar use these similarities as a way of passing the baton down to a younger generation. Time is catching up to Lightning, and he uses what he learnt to teach Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Ramirez was a fascinating, often emotionally stirring character, whose arc is just as big as that of Lightning’s. She’s assigned to train Lightning, but the roles unwillingly reverse, and that’s one of this film’s greatest strengths.
So many franchises throughout the years have done this whole ‘next generation’ storyline, and I’m a sucker for it. There’s something so moving and personal about the torch being passed down, and it’s worked in so many films. Even Toy Story 3, my personal favourite Pixar movie, dealt with this to a certain degree. Pixar dabble with the themes more heavily here than they do in Toy Story, but it works. The first two acts play out largely as you’d expect them to. There are familiar beats throughout, full of Easter Eggs and Pixar references, but it never fails to entertain. Pixar rolls with their story and they don’t stop till they make it work, resulting in a powerful finale that I didn’t see coming. It touches the heart, and I’d be lying if I said this movie didn’t make me emotional over talking cars.
Kids are going to love this movie. There’s so much they can draw from and be inspired by, like in so many Pixar films before this. They’ll be taught lessons that won’t necessarily be put to use until many years down the line, but will no-doubt leave an impression on them. It’s bright, funny and colourful. Every sequence is animated beautifully with a stylized realism. A roller derby sequence in particular is animated to perfection. It’s fast, exciting and features probably the best-animated mud I’ve ever seen on screen. But Cars 3 isn’t just for kids. The first films were aimed predominantly towards younger audiences, the second one in particular, but Cars 3 will resonate strongest with older audiences. It’s a film about accepting your age and coming to terms with the reality of your situation.
Pixar have taken their most juvenile franchise and transformed it into a film that’ll hit home with everyone. Cars 3 doesn’t work all the time, and it frequently dwells in familiar territory, but the good outweighs the bad, and this is without a doubt the best film of the three. It’s a bittersweet, emotional and uplifting sendoff that makes the whole trilogy worthwhile. This is Lightning McQueen’s story, and it’s wrapped up on a high note.
3 1/2 Stars
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