Not much happens in “Cars 3,” a sometimes by-the-book animated sequel, but at least it manages to redeem the awful “Cars 2” that came before. It’s a far cry from that disastrous installment and while it’s not quite as cute as the original “Cars,” there’s a lot to be admired here. First and foremost, it’s not another 90 minutes of complete and utter junk that Pixar has been so adept at churning out lately (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Inside Out,” “Finding Dory“).
Everyone’s favorite little red roadster Lighting McQueen (Owen Wilson), once the fastest race car who reveled in winning Grand Prix trophies left and right, has found himself slowing down. Nearing retirement, he tries his best to train himself into continued relevancy by prepping to go up against the new, younger super fast superstars like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). When Lighting teams up with peppy trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), it doesn’t take him too long to figure out that he just simply can’t keep up and he, pardon the pun, just has no gas left in him. Lightning begins to see a spark in the bright young ingénue and eventually hands over his legacy to the next generation.
It’s important to note that this third installment presents a bittersweet, decidedly adult story that’s serious in its earnest tone, an introspective about the loss of youth and knowing when it’s time to throw in the towel and make way for the youngsters to pass you by. While kids can be expected to be reasonably entertained, the depth and sober context of the story will sail right over their heads. It’s a great story idea but it’s not going to appeal to the younger set, which in itself has a nice ring of irony.
This sunset story unfortunately manages to feel a little hollow at best and at worst, a huge Disney cash grab play to appeal to little girls. Wow, you mean to tell me that GIRLS can be race cars too? Who’d have thunk it? Cruz sometimes gives the impression of a character that’s strained and phony, a young car who blew her shot at becoming a real racer and has since given up on her dream. Of course, Disney / Pixar can’t have that, so you can guess what happens next in the story.
Despite the flaws with the plot, the film features some inspired voice talent from Chris Cooper (Smokey), Lea DeLaria (Miss Fritter), and Nathan Fillion (Sterling), and is beautifully directed by Brian Fee, who makes every racing scene thrilling and gives every quiet reflection meaning. The animation is top-notch and among some of the studio’s best, especially a rousing and zippy bit at a demotion derby.
Animation fans should check this one out, but understand that there’s not much here for the kiddos. If you’re looking for the usual fluffy crowd pleaser from Pixar, this isn’t it.