CARS 3 review by Mark Walters – Disney & Pixar deliver an uneven but entertaining sequel

CARS 3 review by Mark Walters – Disney & Pixar deliver an uneven but entertaining sequel

Disney and Pixar saw a solid hit with CARS in 2006, which explored the idea of sentient vehicles in a world only they inhabit (i.e. no humans or animals), and a simple story of an underdog who trains in a small town for the big leagues. It wasn’t just a critical and financial hit as a film, but a rather genius move in merchandising as every character could easily be made into a toy – what kid doesn’t love toy cars? Then in 2011 they released a sequel… and it wasn’t very good. CARS 2 just didn’t have the charm or the spirit of the original, and many thought it felt like a soulless cash grab that didn’t add anything substantial to the mythos. But the studios still know how popular this franchise can be, so now we have a third entry hitting theaters. The big question is will this third outing recapture the magic of the the original, or just feel like more of the same in a lazy way?

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is still top dog on the race track, having fun and winning like the champ everyone knows him to be. But things get shaken up when a sleek new car named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) joins the races, and suddenly McQueen starts to feel like old news. Storm’s presence also sparks a rash of newer and more stylish cars on the track, sending many of the seasoned vehicles into retirement. Lightning tries to keep up, but suffers a horrible crash and is sidelined seemingly for good. When a fast-talking marketing genius named Sterling (Nathan Fillion) buys McQueen from his backers, he plans out a post-career push of product endorsement for the former racing star. But Lightning doesn’t want to give up his dream, so he makes a deal with Sterling to train for one last challenge against Storm, and if he wins he quits racing on his own terms… if he loses, he basically becomes a product spokesman for Sterling for the foreseeable future. To assist in his training, McQueen is partnered with Sterling’s assistant Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), and some of Lightning’s old pals in Radiator Springs may just be able to lend a hand in his rehabilitation.

There are some genuinely fun and awesome moments in CARS 3, and yes, even a few that remind us why the original CARS movie was so effective. Heck, they even brought the late great Paul Newman back by using previously unreleased dialogue recordings to revive his Doc Hudson mentor character in multiple flashback scenes. And toward the end of the story, the film shifts to a very smart and positive message that will warm your heart. But it’s a strong finish for an otherwise somewhat cluttered narrative. There’s obvious parallels to movies like ROCKY IV or THE KARATE KID in terms of story, but the concept of something flashy and new overshadowing the classic originals is never fully played out the way it feels like it should be. Even Armie Hammer’s “Jackson Storm” is only given minimal dialogue considering he’s supposed to be a pretty major character in the story. So much of the middle section of the film is filled with pep talks and “training” that it kind of feels bogged down, to the point of where I actually started to doze off a little… that’s something that’s never happened to me before while watching a Pixar film.

In thinking about the voice cast, Owen Wilson isn’t quite as charming as before when playing Lightning McQueen, and it almost feels like he’s just reading the words instead of feeling them. Most of the old school cast like Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, Katherine Helmond, Paul Dooley, and Larry The Cable Guy are used really sparingly, which might be for the best with the last name mentioned. Even John Ratzenberger is barely present, but much of this is likely thanks to the abundance of new voices joining this installment, including Lea DeLaria and Kerry Washington, plus several luminaries from the world of racing. Nathan Fillion and Chris Cooper are welcome additions to the cast, but perhaps one of the most successful of the new characters in Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo), who shines particularly well in the final act.

This outing is directed by Brian Fee, his directorial debut after working for many years on other Pixar projects. I’m sure it was a daunting task trying to not only capture the magic of the first movie, but also make up for the disappointment of the second one. Fee may win the day thanks to the strong final moments of the production, but under tighter scrutiny this effort may not fare too well. Even at a reasonable hour and 49-minute running time, CARS 3 seems to meander more often than it flows. It’s almost as it the Pixar movies of recent years have lost a bit of the magic we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s safe to say this is an improvement over the last one, but far from the quality of the original… then again, there’s a whole lotta potential new toys on that screen, and maybe that’s all that matters anymore. One really bright spot of this flick is the short before it called “Lou”, that has a great anti-bullying message, and I actually found myself more emotionally invested in than the film that followed it.

Disney/Pixar’s CARS 3 opens in 3D on June 16, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community’s leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.