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Cars 3 is Satisfying Redemption

By  |  June 17, 2017, 01:15pm  |  @stevengberman

Don’t question the Cars universe. It is what it is–if you can’t make the jump then don’t see Cars 3 (and you probably won’t anyway). But if you do enter in, you’ll be treated to a more human, more realistic, more redeeming film than many human, non-animated, grown-up films in theaters.

Cars 3 is a satisfying redemption of the Cars series, especially given the mixed-up unfunny comic spy disaster of Cars 2. But I think John Lasseter may have relied more on Planes: Fire & Rescue as inspiration for the emotional tone of the latest Cars film than the original 2006 version. This is definitely an adult kids movie, but there’s plenty for the kids.

I took my 7- and 6-year-old boys to see it along with my wife on Thursday night. We walked out slack-jawed, staying until the very last credit rolled (if you do, you’ll be rewarded).

The graphics are beyond stunning. Pixar has taken animated filmmaking to a new level–a summit that may have no higher peak–with its photorealistic (hyperrealistic, really) backgrounds, settings, and action. The cars may be cartoon characters, but everything else is as real as if they shot it on location. I don’t know–maybe they did and somehow stitched it into the movie, but whatever Pixar did, it worked.

It wasn’t distracting at all. If anything, it added to the realism of the movie. And yes, the movie is as real as it gets. Emotionally, thematically, and story-wise, Cars 3 delivers the goods.

(WARNING: Mild spoilers below.)

If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is facing a kind of midlife crisis. A new generation of faster racers is on the scene, and McQueen can’t keep up. He wrecks in pursuit of his young nemesis Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). From there, the movie takes what could be a sappy predictable route, except it doesn’t.

After Rust-eze is sold to a billionaire intent on building a top-notch racing team, McQueen meets his trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). There’s a Rocky III feel here, and if writer-director Brian Fee went that way, it could have been a fair movie for youngsters. Instead, we veer off into The Color of Money, complete with Paul Newman

In fact, Cars 3 credits Newman with the Doc Hudson role, 9 years after his death, To go further into that juxtaposition would spoil the plot more than I’d like to. Suffice to say that Tom Cruise running from hustlers has nothing on Ramirez running from Miss Fritter (Lea DeLaria).

The story of McQueen traveling back to the very real NASCAR’s north Georgia roots (the fictional “Thomasville” is really Dawsonville, Georgia–ironically though there is a real Thomasville in Georgia) and its cast of old racers led by Doc Hudson’s own mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper), is as real as any sophisticated grown-up movie. And we also revisit the Radiator Springs characters, who thankfully stay in character. Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) has a great part, without overdoing it.

There’s no hamming it up or overacting in Cars 3, with the possible exception of Chick Hicks (Bob Peterson), who reprises his original role but in a whole new, obnoxious way. The movie just flows inside the river banks, with a few twists and turns so you don’t exactly know where the river ends up.

And the ending is definitely refreshing.

From here, Pixar could make more movies in the Cars universe if they so desired. Or they could wrap the whole thing and lose not a hair of integrity.

With Cars 3, the makers of the Toy Story trilogy have pulled off what Lasseter and Hanks couldn’t: a redeeming, satisfying package that might not be the end at all.