Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart
Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer, Ray Magliozzi, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Lea DeLaria, Kerry Washington
As Pixar returns once again to one of its major cash cows, can they ever recapture the inventive and familial energy of their franchise starter? Cars 3 suggests you can go home again, but perhaps not quite as effectively as before.
The father of animation, Walt Disney, dipped frequently into the well of fairy tales for his hand-drawn adventures. With notable exceptions, many of his company’s myriad films have fallen into that genre. With Cars, Pixar tried to approach a premise that had seldom been touched on in animation. Setting the film in a backwater town where life moved slowly and that was how everyone liked it. Injecting into this city a young racer whose fast-paced life was at odds with the idyllic back roads of the U.S. provided a rare glimpse into Americana in a convincing and poignant way.
That this story dealt with anthropomorphic cars is secondary. The original film looked at drive, experience, selflessness, and more without feeling like the glossy period musicals animation had long been drawn too. Pixar had already given us toys come to life, bugs trying to survive, and monsters collecting children’s fearful screams to power their civilization. They had not and would not do musicals, which enabled them to tackle topics that weren’t typically in their parent company’s wheelhouse.
When the second film in the franchise arrived, it took the series in a wholly different direction, embracing a crass, commercialized espionage thriller veneer with an excessive amount of country bumpkin Mater, and, as a result, everything fell apart. The wholesomeness and familial energy of the original had been left in the dust.
With Cars 3, we return to the style and direction of the original film, a refreshing step back to what made the series work in the first place. Although the film does have a lot of similar threads to the original, they work themselves out in compelling directions. The voice cast fades in places, but strikes out wonderfully in others. Nathan Fillion does a fine job as the new head of Rusteze while the ever-annoying Larry the Cable Guy continues to disappoint as Mater (and really deserves to be junked at this point). Owen Wilson is uneven as Lightning McQueen while Cristela Alonzo is given little material into which she can sink her teeth.
This time out, the visuals are spectacular. In the 11 years since the original hit the big screen, technology has improved and so too has the imagery. Still popping with color, the rich details are impressive, most notably the natural environments through which McQueen and company traverse. If the film suffers anywhere, it’s the overly familiar and frequently predictable plot. Pixar tends to often bend in that direction, but here things lack the typical Pixar spark that has pushed their movies beyond the commonplace animated feature.
While Cars 3 is a fitting follow-up to the original and is a superb step up from the second film, there’s a vague semblance of life still left in this ailing series. If the studio decides to pursue a fourth feature (not including those two abysmal, Disney-produced and animated sequels Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue), they need to return to the same down home feel of the original while avoiding the similarities and banalities that made Cars 3 feel redundant in too many ways.
Potentials: Animated Feature, Original Song
November 9, 2017