Cars 3

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Cars 3  (2017)    Disney/Comedy    RT: 109 minutes    Rated G (car crashes, nothing offensive)    Director: Brian Fee    Screenplay: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich    Music: Randy Newman    Cinematography: Jeremy Lasky and Newton Thomas Sigel    Release date: June 16, 2017 (US)    Cast: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria, Paul Dooley, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, Lewis Hamilton, Bob Costas, Bob Peterson, Michael Wallis, Katherine Helmond, John Ratzenberger, Michael Wallis, Ray Magliozzi, Tom Magliozzi, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Junior Johnson, Margo Martindale.

 

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 School’s out and you know what that means. It’s time for Pixar’s summer cash-grab movie. This year it’s Cars 3, the third installment in the series featuring anthropomorphic race cars, trucks and forklifts. I’m not a big fan of the Cars franchise; I find it the next-to-the-least impressive series in the Disney library. The two Planes movies (spin-offs, not part of the Cars universe proper) occupy the bottom slot. I’m sure there are many six-year-old boys that will disagree with my assessment of the Cars movies and to them I say, enjoy them while you’re still too young to discern between good movies and lame ones. In my opinion, Cars 3 falls into the latter category.

 cars3-2017I may be closing in on 50 but I’m still a big kid at heart. Given the right movie, I can still feel the same magic a child experiences when watching Toy Story for the first time. The idea of toys coming to life when nobody is around is brilliant. It has a lot of creative potential which is how Pixar managed to get three great movies out of it (a fourth one is reportedly in the works). Cars, on the other hand, seems like a one-shot deal. The first movie was just okay; the 2011 sequel was less-than-okay yet both movies made a small fortune. I have no doubt that Cars 3 will do well but I don’t see it making Finding Dory-size money.

 Our hero Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is slowing down in his old age. All of his old friends are leaving the circuit as a new generation of younger, faster racers takes over. One in particular, a cocky, condescending bully named Jackson Storm (Hammer, The Social Network), takes great delight in taunting Lightning after he beats him in a big race. Not one to quit, the veteran racer tries once more for a big win only this time he gets badly injured in a racetrack accident while trying to overtake Storm. He then retreats to Radiator Falls to recover and sulk.

 After a few encouraging words from his main squeeze Sally (Hunt, Beethoven), Lightning decides to try for one more winning season. He goes to train at a high-tech facility run by the new CEO of his sponsoring company, Sterling (Fillion, Firefly). His trainer is Cruz Ramirez (comedian Alonzo), a younger car who subjects him to Zumba-like workouts, EKGs and other modern training methods. Of course, it goes disastrously and Lightning decides to go old school, working on his speed on an old dirt track and taking part in a demolition derby. He makes a deal with Sterling; if he loses, he’ll retire from racing and help sell company merchandise.

 Eventually, Lightning’s pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) suggests that he go to an old pro for help. The pro in question is Smokey (Cooper, Live by Night) who mentored Lightning’s mentor Doc Hudson. For me, that’s when Cars 3 started to pick up. It should be mentioned that Doc Hudson returns for this third chapter. But how can that be since his voice Paul Newman died nine years ago? Disney used recordings of the late actor’s voice that they didn’t use in the original movie. Also, an impersonator helped out with other lines. I admit to laughing knowingly when Smokey refers to him as “Hud” (one of Newman’s most famous characters) as in the 1963 western. I don’t recall if they used that reference in the first movie but whatever. It’s Smokey that teaches Lightning that the only way he’ll beat Storm is by being smarter than him. Faster isn’t really an option given how technologically advanced the younger car is.

 Cars 3 is mildly interesting in one other respect. In a not-unexpected development, there’s a passing of the torch. The aging pro becomes mentor to a young, inexperienced rookie. I didn’t mention that Cruz’s lifelong dream was to become a racer herself. That is, until fear caused her to give up the dream and become a trainer. I will say that Cars 3, while predictable, doesn’t end in quite the way you’d expect. At the same time, you can kind of see it coming.

 The writers of Cars 3 borrow liberally from other sources; I spotted Days of Thunder (Cruz was probably named for Tom Cruise), Rocky III (the champ getting his edge back), Rocky IV (high-tech vs. old school training methods), Rocky Balboa (former champ looking for one last shot of glory) and Creed (the passing of wisdom from vet to rookie). The voice talents do a decent job. It has a few chuckles scattered throughout but not enough to make it memorably funny. The computer-animation is serviceable. It’s colorful and lively even though the rest of the movie falls rather flat. It’s directed by a first-timer, an art department guy named Brian Fee. It’s like Pixar cared so little about quality that they didn’t bring in one their more seasoned people. It’s clear that their top priority is the bottom line, money. Cars is a name-brand, one beloved by grade school boys into Hot Wheels. Disney knows this and allows the movie to coast on it. There’s no heart or soul to Cars 3. It’s as mechanical and assembly-line as its four-wheeled characters. At least it’s relatively painless. Still, this series has run out of gas. Stay through the end credits if you want to see a bonus scene.

OBSERVATION: I think it’s odd that Pixar has now made three Cars movie and only one Incredibles movie. Now that’s a sequel I’d like to see happen. A friend at my usual theater thinks they’re taking their time to develop an awesome script. I hope so.

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