Sunday 18 June 2017

Film Review: Cars 3

Pixar hit the road for the third time in Cars 3 - question is, should the series have stayed in the garage or is everything still running smoothly under the hood?

After Cars 2 received a critical drubbing back in 2011, Pixar have wound back the clock and taken the series back to basics for the threequel. This time, the film shifts its focus back to rocket red racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), sidelining redneck pick-up Mater in favour of the former's autumn years as a successful competitor in the Piston Cup.

With a host of younger, more high-tech competitors entering the sport, McQueen soon finds himself hopelessly outclassed. Cocky rookie Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) employs a range of stats and tactics in pursuit of victory - something that upsets the order and puts McQueen into a slump. Determined to win one last rousing race, McQueen recruits the help of plucky trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) to teach him how to beat Storm at his own game - only, it might not be as simple as that.

Cars is the ugly stepchild of the Pixar catalogue; not as revered as classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo or Up, the living, breathing automobiles haven't exactly been a hit with critics since they raced onto screens back in 2006. And yet, they are an absolute smash hit with kids - the #95 character design of Lightning McQueen shifts a lot of merchandise. It's no surprise that Pixar's biggest money spinner is back for another spin - and this time, it's actually not all that bad.

After a so-so first film and a terrible second, the Cars series settles into a healthy groove here. The plot is familiar (Rocky III springs to mind), the humour is fairly broad and the emotions never hit the high notes we've come to expect from the minds behind Inside Out, but it is going to have mass appeal and be a big winner with kids without totally alienating adults, which is about as much as you ask for with a Cars movie to be honest.

The best part of Cars 3 is how it repositions the series from madcap spy adventure (seriously, which bright spark thought would work?) to straight-up sports movie.

Faced with retirement, Lightning digs into what makes him tick to get the edge on his rivals. That means a lot of soul searching and exploration of themes like legacy, something which adults can appreciate. Mercifully, this also means Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is thrust to the background - thank Christ.

The film revisits the relationship between Lightning and Doc Hudson (played by Paul Newman in the first film), as well as introducing some new acquaintances for Lightning to learn from. Also, some new friends and rivals - Cruz and Storm respectively - hit the ground running (or should that be driving?) and mesh well with the story director Brian Fee is trying to tell. Cruz in particular is an interesting character that will prove popular, especially with little girls.

The plot doesn't colour outside the lines much - you can see where this is going from outset. But it's colourful, distracting entertainment for little'uns and fairly harmless in terms of humour. If this is the middle-of-the-road stuff that allows Pixar to pay for things like Inside Out or Wall-E, I'm all for it. Plus, I'm interested to see where this road takes us from here - roll on Cars 4.

The Verdict: 6.5/10

Cars 3 is neither a misfire nor a spirited victory lap; it's more a brief realignment of the series that understands what didn't work previously. Kids will lap it up and adults can chuckle along at some of the jokes. It's not Pixar's finest work by a mile - but it's still the best we've seen in the series and a promise that more good stuff is still to come.

Cars 3 is in cinemas across Australia from Thursday June 22. 

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