‘Cars 3’ Defines Its Decade-Old Legacy in One Final Race
Let’s face it, Cars 2 was a major blemish for Pixar’s prestigious reputation. Relying heavily on merchandising rather than the staple pitch-perfect storytelling, the 2011 sequel crashed and burned with critics and audiences alike. With the inception of a Cars 3, there’s plenty of skepticism out there whether or not this second sequel can do the original any justice. But then again, Monsters University and Finding Dory were both acceptable follow-ups.
We don’t exactly know how much time has passed from Cars 2 to Cars 3. All we do know is Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is past his prime. The days of winning Piston Cup after Piston Cup are over and number 95 might be racing his final season. Newer, faster cars begin to populate the circuits, built to perfection and trained with the most technologically advanced tools. The sleek and cocky Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer) makes his way into the field. Like Lightning in the first Cars movie, this rookie makes a name for himself and quickly becomes the racer to beat.
Jackson clocks in at over 200 mph and Lightning simply can’t keep up the pace. After an unfortunate incident during one of the races, Lightning is sidelined and told he’ll never race again. The former champion says that he’s done when says he’s done. It’s just going to take some time to get back on track. In hopes of redemption, Lightning is sent to a performance center, undergoing the same routine the modern-day racers are accustomed to. With the help of lifelong fan and personal trainer, Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo), Lightning is determined to outrace and outshine the rookie Storm on just one more track.
It’s almost weird saying goodbye to the Cars franchise. Like Toy Story’s Woody and Buzz Lightyear, these cars never physically age. The screenplay co-written by Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich always throw jabs at Lightning’s veteran status, but that’s the extent of it. Oh, he’s an old-timer, he’s a fossil. It’s more spelled out than seeing the physical wear and tear of our protagonist. Sure, he can’t crack 200 mph as Storm or as fine-tuned as any other rookie, but he’s clearly no geriatric. Lightning’s simply at the end of amazing legacy, nothing more.
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Cars 3 is a fitting end to an uneven franchise. Full of redemption, it’s akin to a Rocky III or Creed or even The Dark Knight Rises. An engaging, summer-thrill ride, Cars 3 gasses up on a return of hopes and dreams. It’s genuinely pleasing to see Lightning McQueen back in the forefront of the story. Cars 2 shoved the hotshot racer to the side to make room for Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) and his spy shenanigans. That in itself was a major mistake. Mater is fine in small doses, but building an entire film around him spells utter disaster. Those banana-loving Minions should also take note of that. Fortunately, Mater has been relegated to a minor character, popping up for little more than a Skype chat and a signature Git-R-Done.
Similar to the first film, Cars 3 isn’t paced at life in the fast lane, rather a film that takes time to explore more adult themes. Ultimately, Cars 3 is a film concerning legacy. Lightning looks to the memory and ideals of his mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman) for inspiration. If Doc’s his very-own Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lightning manages to have his Yoda moment later on in the film. Once we’re back to basics on dirt roads and sandy beaches does it feel like Cars has finally returned to its roots. Yes, the corporate vs. traditionalist dynamic pops up once again, but hardly has that artificial vibe.
As Lightning is transformed into a more effective racer, director Brian Fee digs more into the motivations of Ramirez. A welcome addition to the franchise, newcomer Ramirez offers such optimism and heart. Alonzo’s chemistry with Wilson is solid and probably the most heartfelt since Wilson and the late Paul Newman in the first film. Her initial annoyances are quickly canceled out by a more sentimental course of events.
Cars 3 is a prime example of a franchise ambitious enough to redeem itself. While it never intended to be as significantly resonant as Toy Story 3 was to an entire generation, there’s ample credit to bring this franchise back from the ashes.