I went into Cars 3 having some sort of dread after not loving Cars and definitely not enjoying Cars 2. Prior to my Cars 3 viewing, I felt like this trilogy might have been Pixar’s weakest of the bunch. It seemed like it was playing off humor, rather than providing substance for a good storyline. Talking cars was a tough sell to begin with after you see the likes of Up and Toy Story (pick one), though not unimaginative.
Anyway, in short, my expectations of the film were low. I wasn’t expecting anything that would outshine the previous two installments, rather just something that would close the door on the Cars series (pun intended), so that Pixar might be able to move onto the next project.
Thankfully, Cars 3 surprised me a bit. It offered up an endearing story about Lightning McQueen having to come to terms with his age and how he should progress with his life. Who would have thunk that the series could be turned around in one film?
“Cars 3” features Owen Wilson (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” upcoming “Wonder”) as the voice of Lightning McQueen. Cristela Alonzo (“The Angry Birds Movie”) voices tech-savvy trainer Cruz Ramirez, who tries to help #95 return to greatness, and Armie Hammer (“The Birth of a Nation”) lends his voice to next-gen racer Jackson Storm, whose high-tech speed leaves Lightning McQueen behind. Kerry Washington (ABC’s “Scandal,” HBO’s “Confirmation”) was called on to voice statistical analyst Natalie Certain, Nathan Fillion (ABC’s “Castle,” ABC’s “Modern Family”) provides the voice of brilliant businesscar Sterling, Lea DeLaria (Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black”) lends her voice to formidable school bus Miss Fritter, and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton helps bring voice command assistant Hamilton to life.
The joy of Cars 3, much like what you would find with Toy Story 3 (maybe not on the same emotionally heightened scale) is a tinge of reality and grounded-ness that comes with the story. That’s not something that is easily translated into a story about a human-less car world where big eyes for windshields and a grill for a mouth are the driving pieces of persona. Somehow, director/writer Brian Fee, with help from writer Ben Queen, put together a screenplay that is a worthy send-off for Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen and brought with it a sincerity not seen in prior Cars films.
On that note, let’s break down the story.
The first act of the story has Lightning McQueen continuing to win his races with ease. We’re introduced to a bevy of fun cuts between Dinoco’s Cal competing against McQueen in several different scenarios, mainly with McQueen coming out on top. His fame becomes legend and he gives almost no effort in pulling off victory after victory…until a young car named Jackson Storm, who is beautifully designed, starts blowing the doors off McQueen and the other drivers. Win after win for Storm starts to grind on McQueen until he finally gives it his all, only to find himself in a horrible wreck and on the edge of retirement. The first act ends with McQueen going through rebuild and rehab to get back on the track, mainly thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic trainer Cruz Ramirez, and also introduces the ‘end of the road’ scenario by McQueen’s main sponsor Sterling, who is worried that McQueen’s continuous losses to Storm will damage McQueen’s brand (and Sterling’s profit). The latter forces the setup for act two, which is McQueen laying it all on the line and guaranteeing a win at a big Florida race against Jackson Storm — otherwise he agrees to retire.
The first act of the film is both joyous and tragic. Director Brian Fee captured the bright spots, and humor, of McQueen and crew with the beginning. He really builds up the character’s success and methodically sets him up for his ultimate tumble towards the end of act one. He does everything right to put the audience in the frame of mind that McQueen is an old has been, while reminding everyone that it’s not the end of McQueen’s journey, mainly driving home that point with Sterling and McQueen’s agreement of victory or nothing. The setup at the end is where act two begins and it starts right out of the gate.
The second act begins with Cruz and McQueen working together to get Lightning equal or beyond Jackson Storm’s 200+mph speed. Trainer and Trainee begin on McQueen’s favorite racing ground, which is the beach. The location is kind of in the same vein as Rocky III’s running scene with Creed/Rock, which is fitting for the content. After a disastrous start at the beach, the duo move to an unsanctioned race in the boonies, in disguise, in hopes of getting McQueen’s racing focus back. Sadly, the boonies race doesn’t last long, and certainly doesn’t end up the way they hoped, and the duo find themselves in Doc Hudson’s old stomping grounds for a last big of desperate help before the Florida race begins. The second act concludes with Smokey, Doc Hudson’s trainer, helping to ease McQueen’s worries and put his frame of mind in the appropriate perspective of how he is going to handle Florida and what that will ultimately mean for his career.
The second act ends feeling like the duo, Cruz and McQueen, aren’t prepared and that McQueen really hasn’t pushed himself hard enough to beat Storm. It feels a bit empty and filled with humor, but it’s appropriately shaped that way for the final act, which I didn’t fully see the direction it was going until the very end of the second act. To be honest, while viewing it, I told my kids how the third act was going to end after finally arriving at the end of the second. I wasn’t wrong and it worked out splendidly. Fee and Queen did a fantastic job setting up everything in act one and two, then perfectly delivering the goods in act three. That effort of developing and slowly putting together the story with the proper amount of time spent with characters was a huge pay-off by act three. It felt like there was some emotional return in the value of time put into the film, which was something that seemed absent in the first two.
Anyway, act three ends superbly for the Lightning McQueen story arc. Sometimes when you think of a Disney or Pixar film structure, you understand that it’s going to end well for the characters. That’s almost always a given, but this time around it ended appropriately instead of JUST well. It fit within the mold built for it and you really couldn’t have a better send-off for Lightning McQueen. In a way, it’s a perfect ending for all involved (with hopes of another beginning).
Overall, Cars 3 was the best of the three movies in my opinion. It takes the subject of life-decisions and makes them real, inside of a world of cars no less. It also doesn’t tip-toe around that fork in the road for McQueen. It clearly shows that he won’t be able to avoid retirement forever, which honestly makes the movie feel a lot more grounded and less dependent on humor. Most animated features have infinite life in them, but this film provided a finite finish line for McQueen to cross. It’s not quite on the same level of Toy Story 3’s ending, but it has a sprinkle of that sincerity and endearment to make it really touching.
On the DigitalHD side of the tracks, the film is really quite pretty, depending on your streaming capabilities and how many kids are online at the same time, and delivered in a beautiful format.
As for features, here’s what you’re looking at for DigitalHD content:
– Disney Pixar Short: LOU
– Car Reveals – Cruz Ramirez
– Crus Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could
– Cars to Die(cast) For
– Fly-Through — Thomasville
– Generations: The Story of Cars 3
– My First Car: Still in the Family
– My First Car: A Green Car on the Red Carpet with Kerry Washington
– My First Car: Old Blue
– Let’s. Get. Crazy.
– Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool
– Ready for the Race
– Rivalry – Global Trailer
– World’s Fastest Billboard
– Deleted Scenes
(Features viewed on VUDU)
There are a lot of nice extras to the initial DigitalHD feature, at least more than I usually see with DigitalHD releases. Most of them are good with deleted scenes being the low end of the scale. For the most part there are really good features with this release. Certainly kids will enjoy them.