After years of racing at the top of his game, Lightning McQueen’s world is shattered by the emergence of a new high-tech generation of cars. When a crash leaves the world questioning his future, Lightning reluctantly turns to Cruz Ramirez, an eager young technician eager to prove her own worth on the track. Is this really the end for McQueen? Or does the legend have one more win in him?
Director: Brian Fee
Starring: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Nathan Fillion, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria
Run Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: June 16 (US), July 14 (UK)
I’m a Disney Pixar fan, a parent, and I have a three-year-old son who is chronically obsessed for Lightning McQueen, to say that there has been a lot of excitement in my house around this release would be an understatement. After the less than stellar Cars 2 and even more disappointing Planes, however, I had a lot of apprehension going into Lightning’s third outing on the big screen. The trailers have been fantastic, the new toy ranges have won my son over, but even with Disney’s vast wealth of good press, those franchise bombs still loom over this new movie.
It’s clear from the off that Cars 2 is something that even its creators want us to forget about. Mater has been demoted back to the occasional bit of comic relief and once again the focus is on racing, on Lightning McQueen, the Piston Cup and, much like the first movie, a few very important life lessons. Where Cars taught us about ego, humility, and patience, the key focus here is on one’s importance and self-worth – let’s face it, adult readers, we’ve all had that moment where we’ve thought about our place in the world and what defines us, this is the journey that the famous red race car is on in this adventure.
After a fairly short reintroduction to all the folks over on Route 66, the setting moves quickly away from Radiator Springs with most of the screen time shared between McQueen and newcomer Ramirez as they travel across the US attempting to hone the aging racer’s skills. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the original movie as we end up with something of a buddy movie road trip vibe, with the usual Hollywood mishaps along the way.
With a kid-friendly runtime of a little over an hour and a half, the pace is steady throughout, taking the time to slow down only when a sombre moment is required. It’s those moments which actually raise this movie up above and beyond your standard children’s movie. Much like Toy Story’s threequel, Cars 3 aims to be a conclusion, an ending to a story, in which it’s not all sunshine and unicorns, the characters face some hard truths. Sadly, unlike Pixar’s flagship franchise, this movie never quite hits the mark and what we actually end up with is more a passing of the torch as the third act quickly shifts gear to Cruz and away from Lightning.
For much of the movie, we see a veteran Lightning bouncing between a mature racer determined to remain relevant, and the impulsive racer of his past, out to prove everyone is wrong. While this journey alone could fill a 90-minute movie, the introduction of a wave of new characters means that there is so much more story to tell. Despite best efforts from the likes of Armie Hammer and Nathan Fillion, however, many of the secondary characters are left undeveloped. Hammer, as new antagonist Jackson Storm, has such little of the screen time that the high-tech racer ends up as nothing more than a stereotypical high school jock kind of a character, a bit of a jerk, but far from the interesting nemesis that the trailers promised. Cult legend Fillion is given a little more to work with as Rust-eze’s new owner, bringing at least a little ruthlessness to justify Lightning’s motivation as the businessman tries to push his own agenda on McQueen.
What we do lose out on in the supporting cast, however, is made up for in the time dedicated to McQueen and Cruz and a slowly evolving mentor/rookie relationship not unlike that shared with Lightning and Paul Newman’s Doc in the original outing. Doc’s influence on McQueen is actually one of the driving forces behind the story, as, with the help of flashbacks and a few of the Hornet’s old friends, Doc’s story is told in a way that satisfies those left wanting when the original movie’s credits rolled. The biggest strength that Cars 3 has is how it draws on what made the first movie so endurable and creates that flipside to the arc, the end of that rookie’s career and how the story reflects on the influences of that original idea is heartwarming.
Cristela Alonzo may not be much of a household name this side of the Atlantic, but her performance as the eager young Ramirez is faultless, more than holding her own with the Hollywood heavyweight that is Owen Wilson and bringing a newfound energy to the franchise without the need to resort to Mater-level clowning. She is a pivotal part of bridging that gap between a much more mature movie and the younger target audience. Despite Wilson having been part of this franchise for over a decade now, there is something fresh about his performance here as well. After phoning it in slightly in Cars 2, he returns to the franchise on form, clearly enjoying Lightning’s swansong. The one and only let-down audio-wise here is the return of Chick Hicks without Michael Keaton. Some may argue that he was far too busy with a certain Marvel project, but even with such as small part to play, his absence is noticeable.
Overall, fans of the franchise can breathe a sigh of relief because Lightning has returned with thunder, the franchise is redeemed. Cars 3 isn’t perfect and it won’t blow you away with its greatness, but if you loved the first movie then you’re going to love this new story.
Cars 3 delivers a much more mature storyline from its predecessor and so parents can rest assured that there is appeal for all ages. With the perfect mix of action and heart that only Pixar is capable of delivering in animated form, Cars 3 is the movie that fans needed, the well-deserved swansong for one of the last decade’s most famous animated characters.
- With Mater demoted to the sidelines, the focus has returned to what made the franchise popular, Lightning’s racing career
- An entertaining story taking a lot of influence from the original movie. The connections with Lightning’s past are pivotal to his future
- Superb cast, faultless voice work from all, and Pixar’s highest standard of animation
- The supporting cast doesn’t get much time to evolve. Jackson Storm suffers the most from a lack of screen time and no real growth
- The noticeable absence of Michael Keaton when Chick Hicks is on-screen.