CARS 3

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Brian Fee

Stars voices of: Owen Wilson, Armie Hammer, Cristela Alonzo, Nathan Fillion, Bonnie Hunt, Larry The Cable Guy, Tony Shalhoub, Paul Dooley, Chris Cooper, Cheech Marin, Paul Newman, Kerry Washington, Ray Magliozzi, Margo Martindale, Isiah Whitlock jr, John Ratzenberger, Kyle Petty, Lewis Hamilton, Katherine Helmond, Jenifer Lewis.

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The original animated films Cars (2006) is one of the lesser films from the Pixar studios, but the franchise itself has grossed over $2 billion at the box office. Its world inhabited purely by cars that were given human qualities didn’t exactly click with some audiences. I didn’t think the franchise had enough petrol in the tank for a third go around the track, but I was pleasantly surprised by Cars 3, the 18th feature film from the animation studios. The only other film series in the Pixar stable to reach three films was Toy Story, and Toy Story 3 is a great movie with fully realised character and an emotional resonance that many live action films fail to match.

Thankfully here the writing team of Kiel Murray (the original Cars), Bob Peterson (Finding Nemo) and Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) have ditched the unconvincing espionage plot of Cars 2 and returned the series to its car racing roots, and the film is all the better for it. Cars 3 pays homage to NASCAR, with three of the characters based on real-life racing personalities. The film deals with more universal themes of death, generational gaps, redemption, gender issues, determination, and the importance of a never say die attitude.

It’s a decade since Cars first hit the screen, and now age seems to have caught up with our hero Lightning McQueen (again voiced by the affable Owen Wilson), five-time winner of the Piston Cup. There is a new breed of racing cars starting to dominate the circuit, with the likes of the powerful upstart Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer, from The Lone Ranger, etc), a sleek aerodynamically enhanced automobile with computerised interior and carbon shell surface. Strom also trains on aerodynamic simulators rather than using the old school method of actually racing around a track. Storm is starting to dominate the circuit and is leaving the competition behind.

In the final race of the season McQueen tries to prove that still has what it takes to be a champion, but in trying to out manoeuvre his rival he suffers an accident that threatens to end his career. Battered, he returns home to Radiator Springs to re-evaluate his future, with some wise counsel from his old pals.

The owners of Rust-eze have sold the company to the aggressive business tycoon Sterling (voiced by Nathan Fillion, from tv series Firefly and Castle, etc), a smarmy millionaire who has little interest in racing itself. Sterling is more interested in selling merchandise featuring McQueen’s iconic number 95. McQueen begs Sterling for a final chance to prove himself and compete in the opening race of the 2018 season in Florida. He is paired up with the upbeat Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo), who will be his new trainer.

But McQueen butts heads and egos with Cruz over her training methods, resulting in sparks flying between the pair. During a long road trip to Florida, the pair accidentally wind up in the middle of a demolition derby, which is a superbly realised sequence that brings plenty of energy to the film.

Regular director John Lasseter has handed over the reins to Brian Fee, a veteran storyboard artist making his directorial debut here. Fee brings a new vitality and some fresh ideas to the series. The CGI animation is superb, particularly for the backgrounds which look incredibly realistic. The Florida speedway scenes are also a visual treat, colourful and vibrant.

As usual there is a strong vocal cast here to breathe life into the characters. Wilson is likeable enough here as McQueen and his continued presence is one of the more reassuring elements of the series. Chris Cooper brings gravitas to his role as Smokey, while some of the cast from the first film such as Bonnie Hunt, Larry The Cable Guy, Tony Shalhoub, Paul Dooley and Cheech Marin also return. Thanks to the wonders of technology the late Paul Newman returns in flashback sequences as McQueen’s mentor Doc Hudson. Newman’s posthumous vocal performance comprised of vocal recordings that were cut out of the original Cars.

The family friendly Cars 3 boasts some superb animation, some great car racing action, and a strong vocal cast, but nonetheless it’s time for McQueen to retire and go out while still on top.

★★★

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