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Review: ‘Cars 3’ Nearly Gets The Franchise Back On Track

From the flashy colors to the striking racing sequences, it’s no surprise that kids lose their minds when it comes to Disney/ Pixar’s Cars franchise. We were first introduced to then-rookie Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) in 2006, a megastar of the racing world; we watched as McQueen discovered that there was much more to life than glory and championships. Now, over a decade later, McQueen is facing an entirely new crisis, one that adults might relate to more readily than children.

Coming after 2011’s rather lackluster Cars 2, in Cars 3 we greet an aging McQueen who is desperate to hang on to his final days in the spotlight. Unfortunately, he finds that he is constantly outpaced and outmatched by sleeker and much younger cars. Most notably, his arch nemesis, the arrogant and obnoxious Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer) has gotten into his head. Storm boasts the same arrogance that McQueen once reveled in. However, now that he’s being left in the dust in the wake of a new high-tech era that he can’t compare with, the arrogance of others sting. Unfortunately, Storm isn’t given nearly enough screen time in the film; he comes off as way too one-dimensional to be a truly formidable opponent.

Still, it’s not just the new models and fancier training simulators that leave McQueen reeling. Natalie Certain (voiced by Kerry Washington), a highly respected analyst who excels in her ability to evaluate a racer’s statistics also leaves McQueen questioning his abilities and his place in the racing world. Seeking to regain some sort of traction before he’s forced into retirement, he ventures outside of his comfort zone to try something new. At his lowest point, McQueen meets Cruz Ramirez (voiced Cristela Alonzo), a trainer who has her own racing aspirations. The former star racer begins to realize that Ramirez just might be his secret weapon to regaining his top spot.

Though the film does meander off course for a bit, we meet some formidable older relics of the racing era including, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.’s River Scott, who is based on Wendell Scott, one of the first African-American drivers in NASCAR. All of McQueen’s old friends including Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt), and Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) also have appearances here. And yet, newcomer Cruz is the true star of this film. Viewers will certainly relate to both her uncertainly and her desperate desire to live out her dreams.

Though this third installment in the Cars franchise isn’t quite perfect, the gorgeous animation displayed here will leave you astonished. Helmed by Disney storyboard artist Brian Fee who has never directed a feature film prior to this film, Cars 3 returns to its roots, reminding franchise lovers why they love the series in the first place. Though sometimes off balance, it’s a charming film about mentorship and a reminder of the brotherhood that McQueen shared with his late mentor, Doc Hudson (voiced by the late Paul Newman).

Cars 3 is now playing in theaters.