“Don’t fear failure. Be afraid of not having the chance, you have the chance!”
Pixar Animation Studios’ eighteenth feature film Cars 3 keeps racing as the main focus with character development at a solid second. No noticeable continuity from the spy-themed Cars 2 released in 2011 except for the main friendship between red racer #95 Lightning McQueen, voiced again by Owen Wilson, and tow truck Mater, voiced again by comedian Larry the Cable Guy.
Set in Route 66’s Radiator Springs town and various U.S. racing locations, this 109-minute film has a brisk pace with bits of predictability and a great ending along with themes on competition about selflessness, sacrifice, and legacy. McQueen streaks to a new stage where he can train those coming up behind him while appreciating and drawing knowledge upon those valued character who trained him, especially Doc Hudson (The Fabulous Hudson Hornet), voiced again by the late great Paul Newman. Filmmakers use archived audio from his original audio recording sessions (over 28 hours) for new sequences and even some originally meant for the first film in this series, 2006’s Cars.
This third installment contains immense continuity from the first Cars film as Pixar filmmaker Brian Fee makes his directorial debut after working the first two Cars films as a storyboard artist plus some voice work on the first one.
Fee also co-writes the story and screenplay here along with Bob Peterson who subs for Michael Keaton as the voice of McQueen’s formal rival who’s now a commentator, Chick Hicks. Bob Costas provides the main race commentary while analyst Natalie Certain, voiced by Kerry Washington (TV’s Scandal), bridges the information gap for the quickly conquering next-generation cars led by #20 Jackson Storm, voiced by Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, Man From U.N.C.L.E.) who use simulation machines. “These machines create a virtual racing experience so real racers never even have to go outside,” she says. Predictably this difference sets up opportunities for McQueen to “comeback” and “get back to his roots” with other characters. McQueen’s journey after a more dramatic event could have been extended and detailed more for dramatic effect, but it would have mirrored a similar sequence in the 2013 Planes, the first installment in Pixar’s spin-off film series.
Writer/actress Cristela Alonzo (TV’s Cristela) co-stars as Cruz Ramirez who appears fairly deep into the story as McQueen’s new trainer. “I hear you’re the maestro,” says McQueen who seeks to improve his lower performance among the next-gen cars. Her background eventually strengthens the story and its emotional impact on audiences. Filmmakers also provide some great comedic moments in this new relationship including a great sequence involving tires and recurring dialogue lines (e.g. “use that”). Nathan Fillion (TV’s Castle) stars as Sterling who manages the training facility where Cruz works while famous Formula 1 racer Lewis Hamilton provides the voice of the Hamilton assistance technology the next-gen cars use.
McQueen remains on the circuit with a few cars in his generation including Bobby Swift and Cal Weathers, voiced by Kyle Petty while his loyal Rust-eze sponsors, Rusty and Dusty, voiced again by Tom and Ray Magliozzi help him in his new transition.
Doc’s former mechanic and crew chief Smokey, well voiced by Chris Cooper, also factors into the story along with his friends River Scott, Junior “Midnight” Moon and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash. “It’s funny what a racer can do when they are not over thinking things,” says Smokey to McQueen who learns “the truth is always quicker” plus even more revelations from the past.
Bonnie Hunt returns as the Porsche 996 Sally Carrera along with Cheech Marin as Chevy Impala Lowrider Ramone with Jenifer Lewis as his wife a Motorama show car named Flo. Tony Shalhoub also returns as the Fiat 500 Luigi and Guido Quaroni as the forklift Guido who is definitely not a paparazzi fan. Filmmakers diminish McQueen and Sally’s boyfriend/girlfriend status (plus Mater’s love interest Holley Shiftwell from Cars 2 is omitted entirely).
Mater’s humor is missed due to his diminished screen time, but Lea DeLaria (The First Wives Club, Orange is the New Black) almost steals the show as monster school bus Miss Fritter who headlines a memorable sequence set in Thunder Hollow. John Ratzenberger’s returning voice role as 1985 Super-Liner named Mack who transports McQueen completes the cast.
Filmmakers continually wisely make comedic references to previous events (e.g. Chester Whipplefilter) for even more laughs and entertainment while providing sharp, booming sound plus impressive filmmaking elements (e.g. progressive focusing as the camera moves along a nostalgic racetrack), travel montages, and amazing racing visuals without looking too clean so audiences lose the sense of realism in this unique universe.
Randy Newman returns to provide the musical score filled with those very familiar themes and movements while the songs including remake of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” plus originals from Brad Paisley, Dan Auerbach, and ZZ Ward plus the notable “King’s Highway” performed by James Ray and written by Tom Petty.
Recommended and rated G (notably for the “moonshine” and “Life’s a Beach” references). Also playing in 3D and IMAX theaters.
The ending credits have some nostalgic graphics (a familiar “I like both kinds of music: Country AND Western” motto plus some appeared in the film) including reference from other Pixar films (e.g. Triple Dent gum) plus there is a bonus scene at the end. Viewers will also enjoy the playground short Lou before at the beginning.