Since having a prime of exemplary films, Pixar has slipped over the past few years. While I did enjoy Finding Dory, films like Brave, Monsters University, and Good Dinosaur were a far cry from the original and emotional deep films they had made prior. Even Inside Out, which has a unique concept, failed to have the emotional impact that it should have.
Looking to turn Pixar’s mediocre streak around is Cars 3, which for most is one of the most dreaded sequels in quite some time. Ditching the spy set-up that failed Cars 2, this third entry in the series follows Lightning McQueen, who is nearing the end of his illustrious racing career. Trying to compete with a new generation of racers, he teams up with his trainer Cruz Ramirez to get back into racing shape.
Re-creating the old-school charm of the original film, Cars 3 is a surprisingly successful animated film that takes a refreshingly mature approach to its story. While this might not be saying much, its the most accomplished Pixar film since Toy Story 3.
Its mind-blowing just how much the animation has improved since the original film in 2006. Pixar has continued to push the craft of animation to impressive new heights, creating a lively world thanks to the detailed approach. From the gleam of light on the car to the rubble of the tracks, its all incredibly well done. Where the animation truly kicks into another gear is the race sequences, which are surprisingly tense and exciting to watch.
The magic of Pixar’s glory days wasn’t about the animation, rather than beautiful storytelling that could emotionally engage kids and adults alike. For the first time in this so-called trilogy, there is actually a good enough story to match the animation. Cars 3 in a lot of ways feels like a sports film, which is fitting considering the subject matter. However, I am thankful Pixar did not take the conventional route with the story, making the film something more than that.
What shocked me most is just how emotionally resonant this film was. Cars 3 is a film about mortality and nostalgia, and how those forces ultimately define our actions. These themes aren’t just tossed in, but rather rendered nicely through callbacks to past movies. Paul Newman’s character Doc is involved wonderfully here, also serving as a fitting tribute to Newman’s fantastic career. I was caught-off guard at several points just how effective and maturely this film tackled its themes, never talking down to kids. This film defies a lot of the typical conventions of today’s animated films, which I appreciate considering the lackluster direction the genre as taken.
Cars 3 however does falter at incorporating some of its newer elements. The character of Cruz Ramierz is introduced, with her energy making her a likable character. It’s a shame though the character and her relationship with Lightning McQueen never quite has the time to develop as it should. While their dynamic does lead to a satisfying conclusion, it doesn’t have the impact that it could have.
While the humor here is certainly an improvement over the dreadful Cars 2, there aren’t many big laughs here. I appreciate director Brian Fee’s more patient approach to comedic pacing, with most animated films now throwing in a joke a minute. Still, most of the gags here are strictly for the youngest of audiences.
Cars 3 may just be my biggest surprise of the summer. Its a winning animated effort that tells a timeless tale with fresh appeal and emotional poignancy.