FILM REVIEW – CARS 3. With the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Armie Hammer. Written by Kiel Murray and Bob Peterson and Mike Rich. Directed by Brian Fee. Rated G. 109 minutes.
“Cars 2” is arguably the worst film Pixar ever made. With it, the animation house that gave us “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles,” and “WALL*E” proved that nobody’s perfect. And the film made over $500 million worldwide. Thus we get CARS 3.
This is a world without humans and in which cars and trucks talk. Questions like how the cars get made or, indeed, how anything other racing gets done are never raised, much less answered. The series is clearly pitched to youngsters who won’t be bothered by such things which is why the plot (in which seven writers had a hand) seems especially peculiar.
See, Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) finds that newer cars are out-performing him and it seems it may be time to retire. He resents this, but also doesn’t feel the need to modernize in any way. He’s feeling the heat from Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a modern race car with design improvements that make Lightning seem like a dinosaur. For much of the film, Lightning keeps trying to turn back the clock. This includes flashbacks with Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman from the original “Cars”) in which we see–but Lightning does not–that such change is inevitable.
He’s helped by his new trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), although he doesn’t really take her advice, preferring the old ways racing on a dirt track. This leads to a bizarre sequence where Lightning and Cruz find themselves trapped in a demolition derby. Cruz has her own issues which suddenly become important in the third act. Or maybe it’s the fifth act. It seems to take forever to get to the inevitable climactic showdown between the old and the new.
“Cars 3” will keep the young fans happy, offering enough in the way of new characters and advancing storyline to preserve the franchise, but lacking the emotional impact of the far more involving “Toy Story” sequels. It’s all a bit calculating, with the supremely annoying Mater (the dim-witted tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) given a few scenes for his fans but otherwise kept off-screen for much of the running time, and a climax in which it is becomes painfully obvious that an earlier scene was put in simply to set up the later one. Filmmakers do that all the time, but the idea is not to call attention to it.
The movie is preceded by a charming short, “Lou,” which will likely be up for an Oscar next year. It’s hard to imagine that “Cars 3” will.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released this month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.