Cars 3 – A Fun Adventure Featuring Familiar Characters and a Sweet Message

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Cars 3

Let me preface this review by sharing my relationship with the original movie, CARS. My college dorm room featured a movie poster, stuffed Lightning McQueen, desk-sized talking Lightning McQueen, CARS Uno, and six different plastic “CARS” cars on my desk. I’ve seen the movie so many times, I can quote the entire thing, beginning to end. I also own the entire soundtrack. I still get emotional when watching the final race scene when Lightning saves The King, forfeiting the race. So it’s safe to say that maybe, just maybe, I’m a little obsessed. It’s in my top four favorite Disney/Pixar computer animated movies (right up there with TANGLED, ZOOTOPIA, and UP).

While I enjoyed the spinoff PLANES, I never saw CARS 2. The premise sounded a little stupid, and out of touch with the tone of the original movie. Plus, it felt like one of those “the first one did well so let’s quickly churn out a sequel to make as much money off the franchise as possible” moments. Suffice to say, I skipped it.  

So when I first saw the teaser trailer for CARS 3, I was cautiously optimistic. A significant amount of time had passed from CARS 2, meaning I assumed the creators put time and thought into plotting it out. Also, from the previews, it looked like CARS 3 would go back to the racing themes of the first movie, rather than that weird detour into espionage in CARS 2. Plus, after seeing images of my beloved Lightning McQueen wrecking on the racetrack, I needed to see what would happen to him!

When CARS 3 opens, Lightning McQueen is still a celebrated racing champ – he’s just a bit older now. Far from the hot-headed, ego-centric, ultra-competitive racecar he started out as at the beginning of CARS, Lightning is now a seasoned racer who clearly just loves the sport. He and his fellow racecars are great friends, engaging in prank wars and friendly competition to motivate each other to go faster. Despite the death of his beloved mentor, Doc Hudson, Lightning spends his off-days back in Radiator Spring with his friends Mater et al, and Porsche girlfriend, Sally. All is well.

Until a new generation of young, rookie racecars join the track – not only winning every race due to their enhanced technology, but taunting the older racecars. No matter how hard Lightning pushes himself, he can’t keep up with these younger, newer cars. While his aged friends retire one by one, Lightning faces pressure from the media and his own sponsor to follow their lead. However, Lightning is haunted by Doc Hudson’s legacy, feeling that Doc’s life was ruined when he was forced to retire against his will following a crash. So when Lightning wrecks during a big race, he becomes depressed, believing he will follow in Doc’s path. With a little encouragement from his friends, Lightning swears that he will not let anyone else dictate his career – he will only retire from racing when he wants to stop.

However, his new sponsor – a slick silver car named Sterling, who bought out the retiring Rust-Eze owners – has other plans. Determined to profit off Lightning’s image by making him a museum exhibit and the new face of his mud-flap products, Sterling demands Lightning retire. When Lightning pushes back, they make a deal: if Lightning wins the big race in Florida, he can continue racing as long as he wants; if he loses, he must retire from racing immediately.

Determined to prove everyone wrong about old cars, Lightning sets off to train. But his young and bubbly new trainer, Cruz, treats him like an elderly invalid, much to his annoyance. Despite their clashing personalities, Lightning and Cruz find themselves on a journey to train for the big race on the same racetrack Doc once used. They’ll meet many interesting characters on the way – including a killer school bus and a bunch of snarky elderly racecars.

I don’t think John Lasseter is capable of making a bad movie. I really loved this one. It wasn’t as good as the original, in my opinion – but in my opinion, nothing ever will be!

In CARS, Doc Hudson was my favorite character. Following the death of actor Paul Newman, I was skeptical about how they would handle his character in the sequel. While it’s never made clear exactly *how* a car dies in this world, I thought this was handled very tastefully and respectfully. Doc’s character and his influence on Lightning’s success are mentioned regularly throughout the movie, and there are frequent flashbacks of Doc (using Paul Newman’s voice clips). *Slight spoilers* In the end, Lightning even paints himself purple to look like his deceased mentor. He and Cruz also visit Doc’s old mentor and learn a bit about Doc’s life.

I was happy to see they paid homage to a great character – and actor – without doing something inauthentic like using a different voice actor and pretending it was the same.

Another significant change in this movie was the presence of “girl cars.” In CARS, the only named cars that are coded as female are Sally (Lightning’s girlfriend), and an older car in Radiator Springs who has very few lines. CARS 3 features Sally again, as well as several other female cars: there’s trainer Cruz (who is a major character), the terrifying demolition derby champ Miss Fritter, an elderly former racing champion, and a recurring TV statistical analyst. I was happy to see so many lady cars with roles, names, and lines!

All our old favorite characters had screen time, although most of them had smaller roles in this movie (most notably Mater, who had very few scenes, and The King, who is seen but not heard). However, I still enjoyed seeing everyone on screen (most of the voice actors seem to be the same as well).

It was interesting seeing a Disney plot that heavily centered on ageism. Other cars are quick to judge Lightning for his age. Everyone lowers their expectations of him and his abilities, which rightfully irks him. However, while the ageism is called out and shown as bad, the ending could be seen as accepting these stereotypes as truth rather than fighting against them.

That being said, my one complaint was the ending. To be fair, my friend with whom I saw the film – who is usually harsher than me in her critiques – had no problems with the ending. Without giving away spoilers, I felt the ending was 1) kind of a cop out, but 2) the only realistic way to resolve the plot. You’ll have to judge it for yourself!

Finally, I can’t talk about CARS 3 without mentioning the adorable short in the beginning. I’ve come to expect cinematic and emotional masterpieces with Pixar shorts, and LOU didn’t disappoint! Don’t miss this short story about a strange creature living in an elementary school’s “Lost and Found.” It has a great anti-bullying message, too!

CARS 3 is left open for another potential sequel. While it helps to know the old characters, I believe viewers who haven’t seen CARS will still easily be able to follow CARS 3. Overall, I think this will really appeal to fans of CARS. It was a great, fun, and heartfelt movie with a good message. I enjoyed it immensely! 

4.5 / 5.0