BY ROGER THOMAS
I have a written before that if I were making a list of all the Pixar feature films, “Cars 2” would be my least favorite, the bottom of the list. One notch above “2” would be the original “Cars.” These are not bad films. Each of them have their moments. The “Cars” series can just not compete with the three “Toy Story” films, “Up,” “Inside Out,” “Wall-E” or “Finding Nemo” just to name a few.
Needless to say, I went into “Cars 3” with very little expectations. “Cars 3” is once again spotlighting racing. “2” did not have a plot that focused on racing as the first film did. “2” was more about a mystery. Racing fans, of which I am not, will most likely embrace this third film as being more like the first, with exciting racing elements throughout the film.
“Cars 3” is also about other issues beyond racing. The film is about the passing of time and the element of age that we all must face. Lightning McQueen is back racing once more, hoping for one more victory. There are flashbacks featuring his departed friend: Doc Hudson played by the late Paul Newman. Many of the fellow cast members are back as well. Then there are new voices including Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, and Armie Hammer. Hammer plays McQueen’s greatest competition, a younger sleeker model who can simply move faster than McQueen ever could.
As with all Pixar films, “Cars 3” looks great. The characters are wonderful creations merging the reality of metal cars with the ability to alter their expressions when emotions require it. Beyond the characters, the settings around them are beautiful. As with all Pixar films, there are too many things to see in one viewing and all of it is artistic masterworks.
And as I said, the film is about the passing of time and the element of age. McQueen has to admit that the younger cars are faster. Learning new things can be frustrating. Also with the passing of time, there come disappointments with the changes life brings. Others, cars or people, begin to look at someone or some car differently because the passing of time has altered their perception. And the ones at whom we are looking actually have changed.
It is not the racing action, which is well drawn. It is not the jokes and comedy which are often clever. It is not the vivid color, which covers every shade of the spectrum. The greatest strength in “Cars 3” is the sentiment. Most of the audience of “Cars 3” will not understand any of the passing time issues, but for those of us who have watched four or more decades pass, there are many things that resonate in the film, and that is the film’s greatest strength. The film moved me, more than I thought it would.
And that brings me back to where I began. Now that I have seen all three “Cars” films, I think I like them a little bit better. However, collectively, these three are still my least favorites. Give me Nemo, Buzz, Woody, Carl Fredricksen from “Up” or all the cast of “Monsters, Inc” and “Inside Up,” and I will be happy. I even liked the short “LOU”, which is shown before “3,” more than “Cars 3.” But, I am glad I saw it. I am sure many racing fans and Pixar fans will like it even more; they will be hoping for “Cars 4.”
One final note, “Coco” is Pixar’s next feature. There is a trailer before “Cars 3.” “Coco” looks absolutely incredible. Once again, it may become harder and harder to pick the best five Pixar films. Leave it up to Pixar to make an animated feature about death. “Coco” opens November 22. The sentiment of “Cars 3” moved me; I expect that “Coco” will have me in tears for most of the film.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.