CARS 3 Solid, Natural Progression of Beloved Characters

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Cars 3 - The Crash

OWEN WILSON and LARRY THE CABLE GUY return to the Disney*Pixar franchise with CARS 3, and it's a welcome change. Whereas CARS 2 seemed like a political message with existing CARS characters shoe-horned into it for delivery, CARS 3 is a natural progression of the character development begun in the first film.

Lightning McQueen (WILSON) has had a stellar career as a racer, sometimes winning, sometimes placing. But suddenly he finds himself up against newer, younger models that are engineered for greater speed and precision. As he pushes himself to beat them (and fails), his longtime racing rivals begin to go into retirement, usually at the request of their sponsors. Unwilling to be put out to pasture against his will, Lightning is determined to beat the latest challenger who has been taking his lead, Jackson Storm (ARMIE HAMMER), and ends his season on what seems certain a career ending crash.

It looks like this could be a very different kind of movie. But we fast forward past all the repairs and physical therapy to find LIghtning, all in primer, secluded away in Doc Hudson's garage watching tapes of his races, including the one where the Fabulous Hudson Hornet crashes and is subsequently retired. It seems he could spend the rest of his life doing this but his friends convince him to get up and get moving again.

Back at Rust-Eze, Lightning learns that his old sponsors have sold their company -- and his sponsorship -- to a billionaire named Sterling (NATHAN FILLION). Sterling is a huge fan of McQueen's, but wants to keep him out of racing so that he can capitalize on his image for branding and endorsements -- something that would be worth less with each passing loss if McQueen were to continue racing. Determined to make the retirement decision for himself, McQueen strikes a deal with Sterling over a single race -- he wins, he decides; he loses, he sells mudflaps.

Lightning begins training with a gung-ho motivational trainer named Cruz Ramirez (CRISTELA ALONZO). But her methods all involve simulators and equipment, not real-world experience. So Lightning takes her out to get her tires dirty, doing some actual racing on sand and mud -- and in a misunderstanding that becomes dangerously funny, a demolition derby where the two are nearly pounded into scrap metal by a converted flame-throwing, buzz-sawing school bus named Miss Fritter (LEA DELARIA, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK). Eventually, their path takes them into Doc Hudson's past, looking up his old crew chief, Smokey (CHRIS COOPER) and learning all the tricks from him that made Doc the Fabulous Hudson Hornet.

When we reach the climactic race scene of the film, all this training comes together in a way that is simultaneously sad and heartwarming and thrilling, as we see what has been going on all this time that even McQueen and Cruz did not see.

This film is special to me, because it marks the first theatrical film I got to take my son to see. Watching him cheer on Lightning McQueen during the races, and get emotional over the chases and the sadder scenes while watching it all play out on a huge drive-in screen makes CARS 3 more than memorable. I did have some questions as to who was giving voice to Doc Hudson, seen in flashbacks and daydreams, given that PAUL NEWMAN had passed after the first film, and the franchise had allowed Doc Hudson to follow that path as well rather than replace Newman with another actor. The imdB credits still list Newman as the voice, so perhaps John Lasseter and company were able to fix up Brian Fee with some cutting room dialogue that didn't make the first film.

CARS 3 races past WONDER WOMAN in its opening weekend, with $53.5M compared to the amazing amazon's still-strong showing of $40.8M. Combined, these two heroes pummelled Universal's TOM CRUISE vehicle, THE MUMMY, which kicks off their Dark Universe franchise with a dismal $13.9M.

5.0 / 5.0