November 4, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: CARS 3

Featuring the voices of Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Lea DeLaria, Kerry Washington, Bob Peterson. Directed by Brian Fee. (2017, 102 min).

Generally speaking, the Cars franchise isn't held in as high regard as the rest of Pixar's canon. I personally found the first film very enjoyable, partly because I'm a NASCAR fan and appreciated its frequent references to the sport, but also because it aimed for more of a laid-back, nostalgic vibe than other Pixar films. It wasn't often laugh-out-loud funny, but its bittersweet nod to days-gone-by struck an emotional chord that was probably lost on children who bought all the tie-in toys. And aside from Mater (this franchise's Jar Jar Binks), the characters were charming, with personalities cleverly reflecting their makes & models.

"I've come for your children!!!"
Since Cars 2 was mostly a cynical marketing campaign, one can be forgiven for assuming Cars 3, which nobody was really asking for, is simply other excuse to sell more toys (which it probably did). But creatively, Cars 3 is a huge improvement over the last film. It's not as fresh as the original, but few sequels are. However, the underlying theme of Cars 3 is something most people of a certain age can relate to: Time marches on and nobody stays young forever, a reality that can be extremely difficult to accept.

This time, Lightning McQueen is forced to come-to-terms that he's not quite the racer he used to be and faces the prospect of retiring before he's ready (just like his mentor, Doc Hudson). Newer, faster & technologically-superior cars now threaten his standing as racing's greatest champion, especially arrogant rookie Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). His sponsor's new owner, Sterling (Nathan Fillion) appoints spunky trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to get McQueen competitive again. When that doesn't work out, Sterling simply wants McQueen to quit racing and use his name to sell Rust-eze products. Instead, with a few weeks before the new season, McQueen goes on an old school quest to find the speed he needs, with Ramirez in tow.

"Go Chargers!!"
The story takes awhile to get going and, with the exception of a hilarious segment at a backwoods demolition derby, the emphasis is more on the characters than action and humor. Most of the series' returning characters are reduced to minor roles (in the case of Mater, that's a blessing), but Cruz is a funny, likable addition to the cast. Her own back story eventually becomes the crux of the entire film, leading to a final act that, quite frankly, doesn't play out how I expected (though with hindsight, the film couldn't have ended any other way and been nearly as emotionally satisfying).

As with all Pixar films, Cars 3 is impeccably animated and visually impressive. From a story standpoint, it wisely pretends the kiddie-bating first sequel doesn't exist, returning the focus to its main character and themes with real world relevance. One could still argue we didn't need a third Cars film, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable and fans of the original (of all ages) will certainly appreciate it.

BEHIND THE SCENES (5-part documentary): "Generations: The Story of Cars 3"; "Lets. Get. Crazy."; "Cars to Die(cast) For"; "Legendary"; "World's Fastest Billboard"
FEATURETTES: "My First Car" (with cast & crew); "Fly Throughs" (short tours of various 'locations'); "Ready for the Race" (featuring real-life racer William Byron); "Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could" (a feature on the franchise's newest main character).
AUDIO COMMENTARY - featuring director Brain Fee, producer Andrea Warren & creative consultant Jay Ward.
"LOU" - another charming Pixar short.
"MISS FRITTER'S RACING SCHOOL" - an amusing 'commercial' featuring the demolition derby school bus character.

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