CAUTION: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS BELOW FOR CARS (2006), CARS 2 (2011), AND CARS 3 (2017).
You guys should've seen Cars 3, the latest PIXAR Animation Studios film, by now. If you haven't, just know that you're missing out. While maybe not the most anticipated PIXAR sequel to come down the pike, especially after the mostly negative reception of Cars 2, Cars 3 is another triumph and worthy addition to the animation company's impressive resume. Cars 2 was released six years ago. Do you feel old yet? Well try this. The original Cars came out in 2006, over a decade ago.
PIXAR's 18th film, Cars 3, packs an emotional punch, hearkening back to films in the vein of Rocky III (1982) and Rocky Balboa (2006), where we find Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) still racing but getting older (it's hard to see age in a car's face or chassis) and not being able to catch up with the new rookies in high-tech racing, like the sleek but sarcastic Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). After making a deal with his new sponsor, Sterling (Nathan Fillion), McQueen is given one more chance to race, and if he wins, he gets to continue racing, but if he loses, he goes strictly into selling Lightning McQueen merchandise. Along for the ride are Luigi (Tony Shalhoub) and Guido (Guido Quaroni), as well as Lightning's new trainer, the delightful and optimistic Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who we find out later gave up on her dreams of racing.
Cars 3 deals with such issues as retirement, which might not be something many kids can relate to, but they can relate to maybe not being able to do something anymore that you want to. The film has breathtaking animated cinematography, especially in the various locations of thrilling races along with the impressive sound that makes you feel like you are right on the track and kicking up asphalt. Director Brian Fee tells a touching story with lots of laughs for all ages and a twist ending that many will not see coming. It pays tribute to the original film, especially with the flashbacks and plot involvement of the late Paul Newman's Doc Hudson, but does not rely too heavily on nostalgia. It wraps up McQueen and Hudson's story and relationship very satisfyingly. Especially moving is a scene where McQueen has tracked down Doc's old trainer, Smokey (voiced wonderfully and believably by Chris Cooper), and the two of them go visit Doc's old garage and training grounds, where he teaches Lightning something about not only Doc, but about himself.
For those that did not enjoy Cars 2, you'll be happy to know that not much is mentioned in regards to the last installment, and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), while returning for the film, is featured much more sparingly than the last outing. For those that did enjoy Cars 2 (this writer included), fans of Mater might be wishing for a little more time with the lovable tow truck. While they are not featured in the film as much as the original, Cars 3 does also see the return of Mack (John Ratzenberger) and Chick Hicks (Bob Peterson), as well as your Radiator Springs friends like Sally (Bonnie Hunt), Sarge (Paul Dooley), Fillmore (Lloyd Sherr), Red (Joe Ranft), Lizzie (Katherine Helmond), Sheriff (Michael Wallis), Flo (Jenifer Lewis), and Ramone (Cheech Marin).
So where does this film rank compared with the other Cars films? It's hard to say; for this writer the original film is still the best, but this third film comes pretty close behind it.
If I had any qualms at all about this film, it would only be that for me personally, I could have had a little more Mater. It felt like a little too much trying to not be Cars 2. Although, my criticism there is mostly relieved when I considered how the movie is really more Lightning McQueen's story, and about his journey finding himself, and he really needed to be on his own to discover that.
Cars 3 delivers a bittersweet, cheer-worthy ending with lots of heart to a great trilogy, but does leave the door open for more possible adventures, especially with Cruz Ramirez. PIXAR can still do no wrong, and while some of their films might be considered to be better than others, Cars 3 does not disappoint and brings back the flavor and charm of the original as well as the spirit of racing.
And of course, the short film Lou (2017) that appears before the movie is outstanding and nothing short of brilliant, and maybe one of PIXAR's best shorts yet, at least from an emotional story standpoint. It truly is amazing how you can tell a moving, inspirational story with little to zero dialogue. The short centers around an elementary school recess playground on a little, maybe not to so nice boy who battles the "insides" of a crafty lost and found box. It's a great way to kick off the race adventure that follows.
P.S. If you're a big PIXAR Cars fan, be sure to check out my article here on why Cars 2 is vastly underrated: https://popwrapped.com/quick-thoughts-about-underrated-movies-disney-pixar-cars-2