Cars 3 Review
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Of all of Pixar’s films and franchises, none have frustrated viewers quite as much as the Cars movies. While the characters have been popular and the merchandise has been profitable, the first film was deemed too long and slow, while the sequel was criticized as too flashy and clumsy. And now the series returns to its roots for an especially grown-up Cars 3.

Cars 3 catches up with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) as he suddenly finds himself taking a new and unfamiliar position outside the winner’s circle. As new, high-tech racers like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) begin fighting for the Piston Cup, Lightning’s old rivals are being forced into retirement. Though the final race of the season ends in disaster, his friends in Radiator Springs convince him not to give up—so he travels to his new, state-of-the-art training facility, determined to prove that he’s still got it.

  
 
The third installment in Pixar’s most problematic franchise takes a step back to the more low-key tone of the original. It still has some car-racing action and some light-hearted humor. The animation is still breathtaking, and the characters are still (generally) lovable. But it isn’t as flashy and over-the-top as the last installment—and Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater plays a (mercifully) small role. Instead of racing around the globe and getting caught up in international espionage, Lightning spends much of the film traveling the back roads, reflecting on his past—and on the characters who helped him along the way.

For that reason, though, Cars 3 is an incredibly melancholy film. Not only does it dwell a bit too much on Lightning’s memories of his late coach, Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman), but it also focuses on Lightning’s desperation to cling to his career as his peers are being forced into retirement. Much of the story—and even much of the humor—revolves around people treating Lightning like he’s too old to function on his own.

The whole message here seems to be about aging—and about figuring out what to do with your life when you can no longer do what you once loved. That’s not really the kind of message that will resonate with the eight-year-old crowd—and it’s one big downer for the grown-ups.

Part of Pixar’s charm is the studio’s ability to produce animated films that are both strikingly beautiful and wonderfully sophisticated—films that appeal to all ages because they’re both dramatic and fun. But Cars 3 is a lot more dramatic than it is fun—and, in the process, it seems to alienate its main audience.

Cars 3 is still a beautiful film—with subject matter that may be meaningful to the parents and grandparents in the audience. And fans will enjoy seeing Lighting McQueen back on the track. But, once again, the franchise struggles with its tone and its message—and perhaps it’s just time to consider its retirement.


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