A solid contender in a three-part franchise, “Cars 3” rolls into a good-natured finish.
Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) begins to feel the effects of age. He isn’t at the top of his game, and the other racers are giving him grief about getting older. He’s especially chagrined to lose to the Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a vehicle with more contemporary styling and an attitude to match.
Lightning wants to re-charge his battery, so to speak. He has a Now Lightning has a new sponsor (Nathan Fillion) who wants him to work with a race technician named Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) who has her own way of helping racers face their own fears and overcome them with her own special brand of pluck. She’s supposed to help Lightning increase his speed from 198 to 210 mph.
Naturally, tow-truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is on hand as Lightning’s principle cheerleader, and Sally (Bonnie Hunt) is back as Lightning’s love interest. In multiple flashbacks, we see Lightning’s mentor Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman). We even get to meet another new character named Smokey (Chris Cooper), who trained the legendary Doc.
Part of the appeal of this story is the idea of retirement and talking about glory days. Little kids might not care so much about that, but their grandparents certainly will, and they’ll appreciate the nod to Newman and his career. This lends a smart skew to a movie that’s sure to have three generations in its audience.
Not surprisingly, the script is sweet and uplifting. The biggest surprises are the incredibly eye-catching environments. During a road-trip sequence, the landscapes surrounding the travelers are so breath-taking it’s hard to believe that they’re animated. In a beach sequence, look at the water, which looks for all the world like actual ripples and waves. I’m using to seeing eye-popping visuals in Pixar productions, but this surpasses anything else I’ve seen in terms of environments.
As with other Pixar films, this experience is only partially fulfilled by the feature film. You absolutely *must* go early to take in the fantastic “Lou,” about a school-yard bully who gets his comeuppance when a “lost and found” conglomerate of stolen or lost avenges itself and the toy-stealing oppressor. I don’t mind telling you that I was in tears before the finale … oh, the feels.
The “Cars 3” story isn’t as heart-tugging, but it’s solid and fun. And if you wear 3D glasses while you watch it, you’ll enjoy being in the thick of the action even more.