Cars don’t get old; they just go faster.
Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is still burning up the NASCAR circuit with many of the famous racers he grew up with and still taking the checkered flag… right up until a rookie ironically named Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer) starts stealing McQueen’s thunder. Seeing his old friends drop out and teams replacing them with the newest and latest racers, McQueen pushes himself to the limit… and wipes out. Unwilling to merely get back out on the track, McQueen needs to know he can beat Storm, and rich super-fan Mr. Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion) has a plan to do just that. Can an over-enthusiastic trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) provide the motivation McQueen needs to get his mojo back, or will he follow in the footsteps of his mentor Hudson (voice of the late Paul Newman) and accept retirement?
After the spy sequel misstep that everyone watched and claimed they disliked — as if a race car becoming an international spy made less sense than a world where cars are alive and people don’t exist — we’re back on track with being on the track. Now our hero must contend with competition from rookie racers who are engineered to be faster, endure longer, and do it effortlessly… and don’t mind telling their elders to move aside. Pixar is always at their best when it comes to stories about getting old — see Up and Toy Story 3 for examples — but will fans flock to theaters to see animated vehicles angrily making left turns again?
It’s been eleven years since audiences first saw Lightning McQueen do his thing; even Pixar wasn’t sure another racing movie would resonate and instead opted for an old-school spy thriller riff for a sequel instead. Jackson Storm looks like a four-wheeled Tron light cycle and is all business on the track: cool, confident, and justifiably so. Sure, everyone wants to see their sports heroes win forever, but that’s not realistic; Pixar has spun this particular yarn before and they have it down to a science. The result is an exploration into the roots of NASCAR (sanitized for younger viewers) to find meaning in any sport and the best place for someone wanting to be part of it; there is no “I” in “team.”
CGI technology has exceeded all expectations; the level of realism in spite of the fact all the cars have eyeballs for windshields is incredible but never lets you forget you’re watching an animated film. Still, the suspension of disbelief pulls viewers to the edge of their seat, but the story herein is what makes Cars 3 work. Let’s call this “the old hero’s journey,” because we’ve already seen the movie where our hero wins because he’s the hero. With both subtlety and full respect, this is the twilight all mortals (and adults in the audience) face, when collective experience is more valuable than the will to win… but winners want to keep on winning, don’t they? There is no perfect plan for growing old, but giving up is still up to you. Good movie; great message.
Cars 3 is rated an all-ages G for Git-R-Done! But seriously, Cars 4 should be a prequel horror film: what happened to all the people after the cars took over? Mass graves, anyone?
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four