The Pixar tril­ogy reaches its con­clu­sion with­out telling us what hap­pened to all the hu­mans. Where are they, you mon­sters?



DI­REC­TOR Brian Fee CAST Owen Wil­son, Chris­tela Alonzo, Nathan Fil­lion, Larry The Cable Guy, Ar­mie Ham­mer

PLOT Dur­ing the lat­est Pis­ton Cup, Light­ning Mc­queen (Wil­son) be­gins to re­alise he’s be­ing out­paced by new­com­ers, in­clud­ing the flashy Jack­son Storm (Ham­mer). After a nasty crash, he has to de­cide if he’s go­ing to learn how to com­pete in a chang­ing world, or re­tire like so many of his con­tem­po­raries.

THE CARS FRAN­CHISE is the black sheep (or should that be sedan?) in Pixar’s cat­a­logue. The one se­ries where it seems profit is placed above artistry. The first film cruised along pleas­antly enough, but de­spite some good­look­ing vis­tas and trade­mark at­ten­tion to de­tail, it didn’t boast the usual rig­or­ous char­ac­ter work, of­ten feel­ing like the prod­uct of one of Pixar’s un­der­pow­ered com­peti­tors. And the less said about the se­quel’s overblown spy cul-de-sac, Pixar’s nadir, the bet­ter.

All this leaves the third film with more dis­tance to cover on its jour­ney to re­spectabil­ity. And it’s sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive on that front. Away from the globe-span­ning spy-jinks of Cars

2, this sees us get­ting back to racer Light­ning Mc­queen’s more per­sonal story of am­bi­tion and legacy. This was cer­tainly the right di­rec­tion to take, even if the new film seeks to chan­nel the spirit of the first a lit­tle too bla­tantly.

There are so many call-backs to char­ac­ters we’ve met be­fore, the plot has lit­tle room in which to move at times, espe­cially with the many real-life racer cameos de­signed to play to a spe­cific speed-lov­ing au­di­ence. Do we re­ally need Lewis Hamil­ton voic­ing an on-board com­puter sys­tem called, with an as­tound­ing lack of imag­i­na­tion, ‘Hamil­ton’?

We are, how­ever, treated to the wel­come re­turn of Paul New­man’s Doc Hud­son, tak­ing an en­joy­able de­tour into his his­tory as a racer, which serves to teach Light­ning some life lessons. Al­though, with his lines taken from vo­cal record­ings orig­i­nally laid down for the first movie, it does again raise the eth­i­cal quandary over re­an­i­mat­ing de­ceased ac­tors, even with the fam­ily’s ap­par­ently en­thu­si­as­tic con­sent.

But Cars 3 works best when it shifts the fo­cus slightly. Mc­queen is still the piv­otal char­ac­ter, but new ad­di­tions, espe­cially Chris­tela Alonzo’s Cruz Ramirez — hired to train Light­ning with the flashy sci­en­tific meth­ods that the whizz kids are all em­ploy­ing — add value. The clash of old-school grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion ver­sus new tech­nol­ogy is well mined by the story, which of­fers a few re­fresh­ing turns among the usual plat­i­tudes about self-be­lief and trust­ing in your friends.

And there’s def­i­nite en­ter­tain­ment to be found as the wheeled vet­eran tries all man­ner of tricks to fig­ure out his fu­ture, such as rac­ing on a beach, head­ing home to Ra­di­a­tor Springs and, most amus­ingly, ac­ci­den­tally en­ter­ing a de­mo­li­tion derby where the aim is to sur­vive an en­counter with a bullish school bus voiced by Or­ange Is The New Black’s Lea De­laria.

Of course, it all looks great, with typ­i­cally beau­ti­ful an­i­ma­tion and a few good gags sprin­kled among the set-pieces. But Pixar has al­ways been about heart and in­ven­tion, and those are still lack­ing slightly for this new chapter of the saga.

VERDICT By driv­ing back to the core home­spun wis­dom of Cars, the third film is a course cor­rect from the sec­ond. But this is still not vin­tage Pixar.

Can Light­ning Mc­queen (Owen Wil­son) es­cape Miss Frit­ter (Lea De­laria)?

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