“Cars 3” is a surprisingly conventional sequel from Pixar Animation Studios. While I chuckled several times along with a few audiences around me, it did not excite and amuse me enough during my viewing, and I walked out of the screening room while feeling not so satisfied with it. Although it is not entirely without charm and spirit, the film mostly runs on a clichéd route trodden by countless films before, and the result is another low point of Pixar Animation Studios after “The Good Dinosaur” (2015).
First, let’s talk a bit about the fantasy background of the series. While its world does not look so different from ours, its main inhabitants are anthropomorphic vehicles, and many amusing moments in the series come from little funny details mirroring our world. For example, one particular scene in “Cars” (2006) features a bunch of tractors behaving like cows on a field, and I was certainly amused when they appeared again in “Car 3”.
In this world, car racing is a big major event for everyone, and our hero Lightening McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), whose name is surely derived from Steve McQueen, has been on the top of his field for years, but then, of course, there comes a crisis as he suddenly faces the possible end of his career. After he is beaten by a newcomer named Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer), McQueen and his fellow old-timers find themselves pushed away as there come more newcomers who are as technically advanced as Jackson Storm, and the change seems inevitable no matter how much McQueen and his colleagues try. During the final race, he pushes himself too far while trying to beat his competitor, and that consequently puts him into a long recuperation period in Radiator Springs, a small town where he came to reside after going through his significant personal changes in “Cars” (2006).
While being still depressed due to his painful defeat, McQueen is determined to make a comeback. His new sponsor Sterling (voiced by Nathan Fillion) is reluctant about that although he welcomes McQueen when McQueen comes to a newly renovated training center in Florida. At one point, Sterling suggests that McQueen should retire and enjoy a comfortable life as promoting merchandises, but McQueen is adamant about returning to car racing, so he is allowed to prepare himself for what may be his last race.
For his training, McQueen is accompanied with Cruz Ramirez (voiced by Cristela Alonzo), a young trainer working under Sterling. Not so surprisingly, McQueen and Ramirez do not get along well with each other from the beginning, and we are accordingly served with a series of funny moments including the one involved with a high-tech simulation equipment, which turns out to be not so easy as it seemed to McQueen.
One of the main highlights in the film comes from when McQueen unwittingly takes Ramirez to a local demolition derby. As they try to evade many different vehicles eager to smash against each other, the film generates a naughty sense of fun from its muddy spectacle, and this is more colorful and exuberant than many of recent action films.
However, the story keeps running on its familiar course. McQueen decides to go to an old shabby town where his late mentor Doc Hudson (voiced by late Paul Newman) once lived because he needs some wisdom from Smokey (voiced by Chris Cooper), a rusty pickup truck who was Doc’s coach. Besides Smokey, we meet other old-fashioned vehicles who were Doc’s colleagues, and you will be excited to see them if you are a vehicle enthusiast.
Around that part, the film often makes its points too obviously. When Ramirez reveals her dashed aspiration in the past, it goes without saying that she will eventually come to revive her aspiration, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that McQueen comes to find a new possibility from her. When Smokey talks about one brilliant moment in Doc’s racing career, we can clearly see what we are going to get during the climax part, and the film delivers it as announced – without much surprise.
In addition, the film feels a little bland compared to two previous films. While “Cars” was predictable in many aspects, it had more charm in comparison, and it also had a touch of class mainly thanks to Paul Newman (His voice performance in “Cars 3” is assembled from the outtake recordings made during the production of “Cars”, by the way). In case of “Cars 2” (2011), which was criminally underrated in my humble opinion, went all the way for a bigger fun as hopping around different places, and it delighted me more than I expected.
Although “Cars 3” is one of lesser works from Pixar, I must point out that even lesser Pixar Animation films are usually better than most of animation films out there. I enjoyed its bright animation while appreciating its small nice details, and Owen Wilson and other voice performers in the film did a good job of bringing lively spirit to their respective animation characters. This is indeed a well-made product to entertain both young and old audiences, but it feels relatively inconsequential when you consider what Pixar has accomplished during last 22 years, and I am already waiting for something better to come next from Pixar.
Sidenote: Short animation film “Lou” is shown before the screening of the film. I think that film is a little more interesting.