Kernel Rating (out of 5): (4 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: G Length: 100 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 6+. This latest installment in Pixar’s “Cars” franchise has a few different car crashes that were extremely frightening and upsetting for the young viewers who attended the same screening I did; there were children shocked and in tears around me. Be warned! Also some characters who bully others based on their gender and age, frequent mention of a character who passed away, and some bathroom humor.
Pixar recovers from the nearly intolerably busy ‘Cars 2’ with the gently insightful ‘Cars 3,’ which tells a story about inclusion and purpose that will, of course, resonate with both parents and children, as Pixar films so often tend to do.
By Roxana Hadadi
Describing a children’s film as “enjoyable for youngsters and their parents alike” is quite honestly a movie-reviewing cliché. But how else to describe Pixar’s films, and the surprisingly moving “Cars 3” in particular? More along the lines of the masterful “Toy Story 3” and “The Good Dinosaur” than the irritatingly spastic “Cars 2,” “Cars 3” is unassumingly one of the most poignant films so far of 2017.
Let us all marvel at what “Cars 3” pulls off. This is an animated flick about talking anthropomorphic cars that somehow manages to tell an insightful story about ageism, sexism, and capitalism, addressing imposter syndrome, how our culture often values youth over knowledge, and the way aging phases you from someone in the middle of the action to someone outside of it. And in only 100 minutes! It’s basically magic.
This isn’t the goofy, overly complicated spy story of “Cars 2,” or the subpar spinoff universes of “Planes” and “Planes: Fire and Rescue.” This is a story that focuses on who Lightning McQueen was, is, and will be, for better and for worse, and it is thoughtful and intentional narratively while also gorgeous visually. It’s a Pixar return to form.
The film, which honestly mostly ignores “Cars 2,” begins with Lightning (voiced by Owen Wilson, of “Zoolander 2”) in the middle of another successful racing season. He and other veterans of the sport keep trading wins between them, traveling around a beautifully animated version of the U.S. while on tour, until a newcomer shakes up the rankings: Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer, of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”).
Everything about Jackson is the opposite of Lightning: He’s wider and broader, designed in deep black and blue shades, and uses data, statistics, and simulations to figure out the most effective way to win. Where Lightning is intuitive and spontaneous, Storm is measured and studied—and a jerk, constantly needling Lightning about his age, insults that lead Lightning to a horrible crash that sidelines his career for months.
When he’s finally ready to race again, Lightning finds himself in what seems to be a new world: His peers are steadily retiring, while more up-and-comers like Storm, who “exploit the data,” are taking over the circuit. Determined to catch up, Lightning falls under the tutelage of trainer Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo, of “The Angry Birds Movie”) whose methods don’t jibe with Lightning. But if he wants to get back to the top of the sport, he’ll need Cruz’s help—otherwise, the only legacy he’ll have is one of selling mud flaps, cleaning solution, and other branded merchandise for racing team owner Sterling (voiced by Nathan Fillion, of “Guardians of the Galaxy”). “The racing is the reward, not this stuff,” he tells Sterling—but what if Jackson Storm is the future, and Lightning McQueen isn’t?
“Cars 3” is shorter than either of its preceding films, but it does a good job pacing the story. There are obligatory stops in Lightning’s home of Radiator Springs and a few short scenes with his best friend Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), but for the most part the film focuses on two central relationships in Lightning’s life: his connection with mentor Doc Hudson (voiced, heartbreakingly, by the late Paul Newman) and his own role as an icon to Cruz. There is a cyclical nature to this story that fits well into the themes about aging and legacy, and “Cars 3” allows Lightning to go full-circle in his racing journey.
It is a little veiled how the film portrays minority characters—you can guess from Cruz’s name that viewers are meant to perceive her as Latin-American, whereas a character voiced by the African-American actor Isiah Whitlock Jr. discusses the discrimination he experienced early in his career—but at least “Cars 3” goes there, introducing to young viewers the immorality of this kind of othering and bullying. “Cars 3” portrays Cruz’s experiences as someone trying to break into a world that has been closed off for her in a thoughtful way that will be understandable for viewers of all ages, and the film creates an arc for her that is both recognizable and worthy of being celebrated. If the “Cars” franchise has a future past this film, it’s better with Cruz Ramirez in it.
Aside from all that, “Cars 3” is animated beautifully: From a scene at a muddy demolition derby to winding roads through snowy mountains, the visuals are exquisitely detailed, even in 3D. There’s humor here, like when Cruz refers to Lightning as her “senior project.” And while the movie sometimes gives into the hero worship of Lightning McQueen that became grating in “Cars 2,” it establishes a path forward for the franchise that is inclusive and purposeful. It is, in fact, enjoyable for youngsters and their parents alike.
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