Cars 3, the latest entry in Disney/Pixar’s high-octane Cars franchise, was one of the most hotly anticipated movies of this year ahead of its nationwide theatrical debut this past June. That is because of just how disappointing the franchise’s second installment — released in 2011 — proved to be. That movie, which was essentially just an acting vehicle for Larry The Cable Guy, was little more than a cash grab for Disney and Pixar. While Cars 3 did make up for the wreck that was Cars 2, it didn’t do so without some issues. That is not to say that Cars 3 is unwatchable. As a matter of fact, one of the elements that makes it worth at least one watch is its story. At the same time, the story is also the movie’s primary negative. It will be discussed shortly. While the movie’s story makes up two of its most important elements, divided into two sides, it is only one of the movie’s most important elements. The work of the movie’s cast rounds out its most important elements. Both elements are critical to the movie’s overall presentation in their own fashion. All things considered, Cars 3 still manages to make it to the checkered flag, albeit on seven cylinders. Yes, that awful pun was intended. That aside, Cars 3 does go the mile and in turn proves itself worth at least one watch.
Cars 3 is a fitting finale for Disney/Pixar’s Cars franchise. It is not a perfect period to the franchise, but is still an enjoyable presentation that is worth at least one watch. That is due in part to the movie’s central story, which brings the franchise full circle. Eleven years after Lightning McQueen first debuted, he has become a beloved veteran of the Piston Cup Series in this movie — beloved both by fans and by his fellow race cars. However, he also finds that his heyday has passed and must come to terms with moving on and moving forward. If this sounds familiar, it should. A very similar story was presented approximately seven years ago in Toy Story 3, another Disney/Pixar flick. The movies’ writing teams are not the same, but the story is quite similar, just presented in a different scenario. It is also a story that, much like that of the franchise’s freshman entry, reminds audiences of racing’s roots. While Thomasville Speedway does not exist in the real world, it instantly conjures thoughts of North Wilkesboro and so many of the tracks that formed NASCAR’s foundation. It was nice to see the movie’s writing staff bring back this focus on the sport’s past (including its moonshining connection) once again, especially considering the direction that NASCAR has gone since the early 2000s under its current leadership regime.
Paying tribute once more to NASCAR’s roots while also presenting a message of letting go and moving forward are both key to making the story Cars 3‘s central story entertaining. They are only a portion of what makes it watchable. Not to give away too much for those who perhaps haven’t yet seen this movie, but there is also a surprise twist in the movie’s final scene that is just as certain to entertain audiences while still tying directly into that theme of progress. It makes the story that much stronger. Keeping all of this in mind, the movie’s central story forms a strong foundation for its presentation. While that foundation is strong though, it is not entirely solid. There are some noticeable cracks in that foundation thanks to the writing team’s apparent struggle to decide if they wanted to throw back to Cars or make this movie more a tribute to the voice of Doc Hudson, the late great Paul Newman.
Throughout the course of Cars 3‘s one-hour, 42-minute run time, the story references Doc Hudson so many times that it becomes easy to lose count of said references, even going so far as to use what must have been some material that never made it to Cars’ final cut in this case to try to advance the story. The problem here is that rather than advance the story, it leads the story to get sidetracked, ultimately slowing the story’s pacing. That pacing problem is in the end, the second of the movie’s most important elements to discuss. It almost makes one want to fast forward the movie at times as Lightning McQueen progresses on his journey of re-discovery just to make it through the movie’s traffic. Yes, that bad pun was intentional, too. Getting back on the subject at hand, the diversions created through the references to Hudson include extra scenes, such as Lightning’s discussion with Smokey about Doc and his recollections of his own conversations with Doc among others. Those extra scenes probably should have hit the cutting room floor as they do not do much to advance the movie’s central story. Considering all of this, it becomes clear why Cars 3‘s central story is both a positive and a negative. That duality is so important that it in itself gives audiences plenty of reason to watch this sequel at least once. Also making Cars 3 worth at least one watch is the work of its voice cast.
Owen Wilson returns once more as the voice of Lightning McQueen for this ride as do the original voice actors who brought life to Radiator Springs’ residents and even Dinoco owner Tex’s voice (Humpy Wheeler), that of Chick Hicks — Bob Peterson (Cars, Up, Finding Nemo) — and Lightning’s hauler Mack — John Ratzenberger (Cars, Cars 2, Toy Story 1 – 3). Both the seasoned cast and the new additions — Armie Hammer as the voice of Jackson Storm, Chris Cooper as the voice of Smokey, Cristela Alonzo as the voice of Cruz Ramirez and Kerry Washington as the voice of Natalie Certain — do their utmost to make the movie enjoyable for audiences of all ages. While Jackson Storm is the movie’s main villain, he is not really on camera very much. Keeping that in mind, Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) easily could have hammed it up as the self-centered, high-performance race car. He didn’t allow that to happen, though. Instead he showed his understanding and respect for his part in the story’s bigger picture each time, making Storm a villain that audiences will love to hate. To that end, Hammer is deserving of his share of applause for his work. Alonzo (Mind of Mencia, Cristela) is just as entertaining as Cruz. This includes both Cruz’s funnier moments — such as when she accidentally digs herself into the sand and when she is acting as the racers’ trainer — and her more emotional moments –such as her confrontation with McQueen following the demolition derby and the equally moving climax in the story’s final act (not to give away too much). Considering the situations into which the movie’s writers put Cruz, it would have been easy for Alonzo to go over the top, too. But She shows time and again so much talent, ensuring even more audiences entertainment and engagement. When her work and that of Wilson couples with work of the movie’s supporting cast (the Radiator Springs cast, announcers, etc.) the whole of their work strengthens the foundation formed by the movie’s story, and makes the movie that much more worth the watch. That is even considering the issues raised in the story’s balance. When this is considered along with the movie’s standout CGI, which has clearly been stepped up since the franchise first debuted 11 years ago, the whole of Cars 3 proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable watch. It doesn’t live up to the legacy left by Cars, but definitely does make up for Cars 2 while potentially even leaving the door open for a whole new series of Cars movies, leaving it a fitting finale for the Cars franchise.
The third and likely last entry in Disney/Pixar’s Cars franchise is a fitting final lap for the series. It proves in the long run that it really should have been Cars 2 instead of the movie that turned out to be Cars 2. That movie never should have even existed. Even with that movie having been made, Cars 3 will likely be considered the real rightful Cars 2 by most viewers. That is due in part to a story that despite struggling to balance its tribute to Paul Newman with an actual continuation of Cars, still proves to have some heart — enough heart to make it worth at least the occasional watch. The work of the movie’s voice cast — both main and support — strengthens the movie’s presentation even more. Add in some impressive CGI work that that clearly is another step up from the franchise’s freshman film, and audiences get a movie that definitely makes it to the checkered flag. It is available now in stores and online. More information on Cars 3 and other Disney/Pixar movies is available online now at:
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