Way back in 2006 Cars burst out onto the scene and became yet another Pixar entry full of fun, humour, heart, and was a thoroughly enjoyable animated adventure from beginning to end. However in 2011 we got the trash that was Cars 2 which opted for a “bigger” and more action packed approach incorporating a muddled plot with an awkwardly placed spy/espionage element. And in a pleasant turn of events, Cars 3 forgets the disaster that was Cars 2 and goes back to its roots, focusing predominantly on the racing and one on one mentor training that made the first film so memorable. This entry follows McQueen (Owen Wilson) who is being repeatedly outdone by the newer generation of racers and seeks the help of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to get back in winning form before his time is up. This felt like a return to a working formula for the Cars franchise and a breath of fresh air at the same time. The new characters are all welcome additions, veteran characters are featured accordingly, the story is engaging, and this world genuinely feels like it has progressed in the last 11 years.
Cars 3 is the directorial debut for Pixar animator Brian Fee and he does a really good job at capturing the tone of the Cars franchise and taking it back to its roots. He takes a familiar structure but populates it with new locations, characters, and conflicts that McQueen has to overcome that all work together to make this feel like a fresh new film. The pacing is mostly well orchestrated, the second act does take a noticeable dip in the pace as we get into some of the more dramatic character building content in a new location but other than that one section, it is all on point. It kicks off by introducing an intriguing problem and as someone who wasn’t looking forward to this entry, I was hooked in almost immediately as it gets you once again rooting for Lightning and Co.. The great thing is, even though it follows an overall familiar formula the plot has plenty of surprises in store that elevate story and leads to some good character development.
Owen Wilson is great as always as Lightning McQueen, so good that I continuously forget that is is Wilson providing the voice for the 95 wearing race-car. McQueen is a character with a lot of charisma and has a personality so well built up over the 3 films it’s a testament to how good Wilson is in the role to continuously bring him to life. The rest of the veteran characters do return here but aren’t as heavily featured as you’d think and I quite enjoyed that. Having Sally (Bonnie Hunt), Luigi (Tony Shalhoub), and Mack (John Ratzenberger) among others interject in the plot occasionally works well to bring back these iconic characters but not have it feel overly forced. Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) returns briefly for that child-like humour and even though it isn’t funny I just have to accept that it’s there. It’s the new characters though and the performances behind them where this entry shines, Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), Cruz Ramirez, and Sterling (Nathan Fillion) are where it’s at. The voice acting was great across the board and all three of these characters were great in their roles, serving the plot. Cruz Ramirez I initially thought was going to be the annoying new Mater but her character grows a tonne and outshines McQueen himself in a few scenes.
Quite possibly my favourite element of this film is the very cool way in which they bring the late Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson character back into a crucial role in the story after discontinuing the character due to the veteran actor’s untimely passing. Hudson and his mentor relationship with Lightning is what made the first film so memorable so to have something to that effect back here is a very welcome addition.
So in the end I have to say colour me surprised, I enjoyed watching Cars 3. I never thought I’d be saying that especially coming off of Cars 2 but I feel like Pixar reigned in the story and captured what made the first film so well received. The animation is stunning as ever, the performances are strong across the board, and the story grabs you early with the character development and relationships taking you through to the end. My major gripe is with the drop in pace during the second act where it loses some steam but beyond that point it picks itself up and finishes strongly. If they did go ahead and proceed with a Cars 4 I wouldn’t be opposed to that and would love to see what they could come up with.