Lightning And The Rookies: Cars 3
Lightning McQueen has enjoyed a long run of success on the racing car circuit. In Cars 3, however, McQueen (Owen Wilson) finds that a number of rookies look to end his reign of greatness, as well as his career. Leading the pack of rookies is Jackson Force (Armie Hammer), who speeds past Lightning down the stretch of a Piston Cup race to victory. As Jackson gloats, Lightning determines to find a way to stay up with his new competition. The season ends, though, with Lightning crashing in an effort to defeat his new rival.
While spending the off-season in Radiator Springs, Lightning learns that Rust-Eze, his longtime sponsor, has been sold to wealthy businessman Mr. Sterling (Nathan Filion). He brings Lightning to his training center, and assigns head trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to get him ready for the upcoming season. Rejecting the race simulations that Cruz has all drivers do, he convinces Cruz to train him on roads similar to the conditions he faces on the tracks. The results, though, remain the same for Lightning. Faced with an ultimatum from Sterling, Lightning calls Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) for advice. He suggests Lightning and Cruz try and find Smokey (Chris Cooper), who had been the crew chief of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). He suggests techniques that will help Lightning compensate for Jackson's superior speed. A non-Piston Cup race ends with an unexpected result, though Lightning and Cruz continue to prepare for the Florida 500 race.
While I have enjoyed almost all of Pixar's feature fare, I would put the first two Cars films at the bottom of the list, and would not recommend the Cars 2 movie. Cars 3 is easily the best movie of the series as Lightning has to make decisions regarding his future in Piston Cup racing. Brian Fee, who had worked on other aspects of the first two Cars movies, makes his debut as a director with Cars 3. This movie creates sympathy for Lightning as he sees his generation of race cars leaving the circuit and others, such as Jackson, wishing that he'd do the same. Cars 3 also shows the changing face of the sport, such as racing analyst Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington), who looks into the science of the racers, and their chances of winning based on this science. Lightning also has a strong base of support in Radiator Springs, including girlfriend Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), who'd like to have more of a life with him. He also has a place in the world of racing, with the help of Cruz. While Cars 3 is not Pixar at is very best, I think this movie has more substance than either of its predecessors.
The pairing of Wilson and Alonzo gives added energy to this entry. Wilson's Lightning, now a seasoned veteran, knows he lacks the pure speed of Jackson and a younger generation of technically advanced racers. That reality really hits home when close friend Cal Weathers (Kyle Petty) recognizes he no longer can be among the elite in Piston Cup and retires. While Lightning may appreciate Cruz's efforts, he knows training proves nothing beyond how well a car can perform in a simulated exercise. Alonzo, as the high-spirited Cruz, knows little about the world where Lightning makes a living. She does, however, reveal an interesting story about herself in one of the movie's pivotal moments. She shows racing skill in a race where Lightning hides his identity, and both get cheers from the crowd when Lightning's identity is inadvertently revealed. It was great to hear Newman's voice again, courtesy of lines recorded but not used in Cars. Those few moments show how much Doc influences Lightning in his road forward. Hammer adds decent support as the brash Jackson, and Cooper adds a voice of wisdom as Smokey. Larry The Cable Guy is most prominent among the supporting returning cast as Mater. In addition to Petty, others from racing and sportscasting who add their voice talent include Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Lewis Hamilton, and Bob Costas. The theatrical release of Cars 3 also includes the short film Lou, about a school bully named JJ who gets a lesson about his behavior from an unlikely source.
Cars 3 shows Lightning McQueen lose some of his championship edge, and how he deals with the road ahead. Changes occur in his support team as he adapts to the new realities around him. The movie marks Lightning at his most enjoyable as he faces his obstacles as best he can. No matter where he goes, he knows he has friends, both old and new, who fully support him.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Cars 3 three stars. Start your engines again.